CMS Says $922 Million In Bonds Won't Cover Promised Projects

Feb 7, 2020

The $922 million in school bonds that voters approved in 2017 is no longer enough to cover all the projects promised during the campaign, a top Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools official said Friday.

Deputy Superintendent Carol Stamper says rising construction costs have left a gap between the promises made -- 17 new schools and 12 renovations and expansions -- and the bonds that were supposed to pay for them.

She says CMS remains committed to delivering on all the projects and will work with the county, which provides money for school construction, to figure out how to do that.

Stamper and board Chair Elyse Dashew say more details are coming at a Feb. 25 work session.

Their comments come after CMS leaders declined to answer questions earlier this week about  online documents that indicate CMS is planning to scale back the size of two new high schools and delay another by a year.

"We've handled this in a confusing manner thus far, and I will own that," Dashew said.

The 2017 bond package included three new high school buildings, listed at 125 classrooms and $110 million each. Bond reports posted at the CMS website indicate two of them are now considered 100-classroom projects.

CMS board chair Elyse Dashew

Dashew says those changes have been discussed among CMS staff and board members and aired at some community meetings, but have not been approved by the board. 

Dashew said Friday that construction costs have risen since the bonds passed, and district leaders have raised questions about whether 125-classroom high schools are good for students. But she said detailed discussion will come in the context of the full bond package, at the Feb. 25 meeting.

Stamper said it's not yet clear how much more money is needed to cover the promised projects.

Three potential changes have been posted in CMS bond updates:

  • A new high school slated to open in southwest Charlotte in August 2022 is now listed as a 100-classroom school, with capacity for 2,500 students. It will be build on CMS land next to Palisades Park Elementary in the fast-growing section of the county and pull students from the Olympic High zone.
  • A new building that will replace the cluster of aging buildings at West Charlotte High in August 2022 is also listed as a 100-classroom school with capacity for 2,500. West Charlotte High currently has fewer than 1,400 students. 
  • A new school in south Charlotte, designed to pull students from Ardrey Kell, South Meck and Myers Park, is now listed as opening in August 2024 instead of 2023. This summer CMS started testing soil on land next to Olde Providence Elementary as a site for that school, but Superintendent Earnest Winston put that on hold after neighbors and board member Sean Strain raised questions in August.

People in the Olde Providence neighborhood said the site, which CMS owns, is too small for a full-size high school with athletic fields and parking lots. They're pushing for a site in Ballantyne, which would add considerable costs to buy land.

Promises made during bond campaigns aren't legally binding, but failure to honor them can erode trust for future bond votes. Years ago CMS created a Bond Oversight Committee, which recruits volunteers to work with staff to monitor whether the district is honoring bond promises.

Questions raised at a recent Bond Oversight Committee meeting spurred the latest round of queries about why CMS is making changes.

Dashew says CMS has also hired a consultant, Dennis LaCaria, to help with community engagement on the construction projects. LaCaria has done planning and facilities work for CMS and Mecklenburg County.

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