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CMS will present school construction plans to municipal officials on Tuesday

North Mecklenburg High
Ann Doss Helms
Extensive renovations to North Mecklenburg High in Huntersville could be affected by a penalty related to municipal charter schools.

Elected officials from six suburban towns, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County will meet Tuesday with leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to discuss 2023 school bond plans.

CMS officials recently released a preliminary list ranking 125 construction and renovation projects. The meeting of the Municipal Education Advisory Committee will provide a first chance for the others to hear the explanations and weigh in.

The full list totals more than $5 billion. The priority rankings will determine which projects make the cut for a school bond referendum in November 2023. CMS construction consultant Dennis LaCaria says he expects that to be a little more than $2 billion – more than double the record-setting $992 million voters approved five years ago.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Tuesday released a ranked list of school construction projects, the first step toward a 2023 bond vote.

Construction rankings are always controversial because some don’t make the cut. This year could be more so because of long-simmering tension between CMS and some of the suburbs.

Several years ago, officials in some suburban towns were alarmed by CMS student assignment talks. In response, lawmakers who represented those towns passed a local bill that authorized Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius to create municipal charter schools, using local tax money to launch public schools that would not report to CMS and could give admission priority to residents of those municipalities.

The NAACP sued, calling it a segregation attempt. The school board passed a resolution directing the superintendent to prioritize projects outside those four towns. Matthews and Cornelius escaped that penalty by voting not to create their own charter schools. Huntersville and Mint Hill haven’t taken any action to create such schools but haven’t renounced the option.

The CMS ranking system, which is still open for discussion, subtracts 100 points from schools in those two towns. At a recent board meeting, board member Sean Strain asked LaCaria about the impact of the penalty. LaCaria said the $149.5 million North Mecklenburg High School replacement project is likely to miss the cut-off for the 2023 bonds because of the penalty. North Meck is located in Huntersville but, as Strain noted, serves students who live in Charlotte as well.

Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the Municipal Education Advisory Committee starts at 1 p.m. and will stream live on the CMS board Facebook page.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.