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The Mecklenburg County Commission has approved a $2.5 billion bond package for CMS that will go before voters. The board says the money is needed to add classrooms, replace outdated schools, improve learning conditions and keep students safer in violent times.

Mecklenburg County commissioners move ahead with $2.5 billion school bond package

CMS plans to add video surveillance focused on mobile classrooms like these.
Trailers at David Cox Elementary School in north Charlotte. Overcrowding at some schools is a reason supporters say the bonds are needed.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted Wednesday night to move forward with putting $2.5 billion worth of school bonds on the ballot for voters this November. The referendum would be the largest school bond issue in state history and would fund 30 major school construction or renovation projects for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The vote was 5-3, with commissioners Arthur Griffin, Vilma Leake and Pat Cotham opposed.

Griffin, a former school board chairman and member, said he would have supported $1 billion worth of bonds, but $2.5 billion will require tax increases. And he said he has questions about the plan, and the necessity of the $2.5 billion amount. He said his decision to vote no was tough.

"It's hard for me to (vote no), because I co-chaired the 2017 bond campaign here in Mecklenburg County," he said. "But there are serious questions that have not been answered satisfactorily for me."

Only one person from the public spoke at the hearing. Ashley Wiley said she’s a huge supporter of CMS, but that she can’t support a bond package as big as the one currently proposed. One reason she cited: a controversial plan to switch magnet school buses to express routes.

"We don't know where all of these express stops are going to be. We don't know ... what the security plan is going to be, or if our kids are just supposed to be grouped together, and what happens," she said.

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said CMS isn’t to blame for the plan’s eye-popping cost, and that bigger factors are at play.

"The cause of this huge price tag is really about inflation, and about how much it really costs to build schools these days with all of the safety features and all of those things that we've come to expect now," she said.

And Commissioner Laura Meier said it comes down to meeting students’ needs as the county replaces and upgrades aging buildings.

"It's about buildings and renovations and giving our kids a safe and healthy place to learn," Meier said.

Voters will get the final say in a referendum this fall.

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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.