Changes are coming to dozens of CMS schools. Now’s the time to speak up.
This article appeared first in Ann Doss Helms' weekly newsletter about schools and education. Sign up to get the news in your inbox first here.
If there hadn’t been a Title IX civil trial involving Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools going on in federal court last week, the release of an updated CMS plan for bonds, buildings, boundaries and magnet programs probably would have gotten more media attention. It’s going to have a huge impact on schools across the county — and on Mecklenburg County taxpayers.
But that’s OK. You’ve still got time to get up to speed and weigh in before anything is locked in.
Here’s the deal: The district has narrowed the $5.2 billion list of potential construction projects it presented in May to a 40-project list that comes to almost $2.9 billion. That’s tentatively what the district will ask county commissioners to put on the ballot for a school bond referendum in November.
SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS
As a nonprofit newsroom, WFAE relies on readers like you to make stories like this possible. Our local reporting is vital to the health of our communities and our democracy, but we can’t do this without you. Please consider supporting our journalism by contributing as little as $10 today.
Unlike bonds floated when enrollment was shooting up, this package focuses mostly on replacing outdated school buildings. The system for ranking projects gave top priority to replacing schools where poor ventilation, obsolete design and other factors impair the learning environment and/or safety.
But the impact of this plan goes well beyond the 40 projects. CMS is also reconfiguring magnet programs and grade levels in an attempt to create better access in all parts of the county and a more effective path from kindergarten through graduation.
For instance, construction projects at three arts magnets would lead to a new system in which arts students across the county start at University Park, go to First Ward for middle school and end up at Northwest School of the Arts for high school.
And the district proposes getting rid of K-8 neighborhood schools, which have been controversial since CMS created them in 2010.
“What we’re learning is that it is hard to provide a full middle school experience, academically and also in terms of extracurriculars and sports, for middle schools in a K-8 environment,” says CMS planning director Claire Schuch.
I’ve pulled together a list of the projects by school so you can scan and see what might be in store for the ones you care most about.
And I spoke with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry about this plan; check out the audio here or at the top of this story for more about lottery money for construction and additional changes to specific schools.
What comes next?
There are public engagement sessions scheduled through Feb. 8. The next one is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Northwest; check out the full schedule here. Feedback collected at these sessions could shape the plan Interim Superintendent Crystal Hill presents to the board on Feb. 14.
Some community groups are already hosting their own sessions. The League of Women Voters will host a discussion of the equity aspects of the plan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (register here). If you’re interested in inviting CMS folks to talk about this plan to your community group, email CMSreview23@cms.k12.nc.us.
Here’s my tip: If you don’t see your school on this list don’t tune out. And if you’re not happy with what you’re seeing, don’t give up. This work is a marathon, and the people who stay engaged for the long haul have the best chance of shaping results.
The first question is going to be whether the county will agree to ask voters for almost $3 billion. If not, CMS must go back and pare its list. Once a list is locked in, there will still be ongoing discussions about specific boundary and magnet changes (you’ll notice some items on the list are vague).
The earliest changes related to this plan would start in August 2024, but most will play out over the next two to 10 years.
Will Mint Hill pay a penalty?
When CMS presented this plan to the media last week, construction consultant Dennis LaCaria mentioned in passing that Mint Hill is the only municipality that remains subject to the Municipal Concerns Act penalty.
That refers to a political slugfest that followed the last CMS bond campaign and student assignment review. Responding to anxiety and frustration from officials in some of Mecklenburg’s suburban towns, state lawmakers authorized Huntersville, Cornelius, Matthews and Mint Hill to use local tax money to sponsor charter schools that give admission preference to town residents.
In 2018, the school board voted to lower the construction priority of projects in those towns — unless their town boards declared a moratorium on actually creating municipal charter schools. All but Mint Hill eventually did so, and there’s been no attempt in Mint Hill to create such a charter.
I asked LaCaria afterward if that penalty kept any Mint Hill projects from making the first cut. He said no. There are projects on the $5.2 billion list at Independence High and Lebanon Road Elementary, but he said even without the Municipal Concerns penalty they wouldn’t have made the top 40.