CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Charlotte-Mecklenburg School officials are asking taxpayers for the largest single bond request in North Carolina history.
The referendum on the November ballot would provide the district with as much as $2.5 billion for school repairs, replacements, and rebuilds. It would support 30 projects around the county.
The district’s executive director of facilities and real estate planning, Dennis LaCaria, said several schools have retrofitted and modified existing space to fit the current needs, but the temporary solutions are no longer viable.
“We’re sending kids to school in the closet, quite frankly. The teachers see that, teachers feel that, the students see that and they feel that too,” LaCaria said. “It’s incumbent upon us to make those situations better so our staff feels valued, our students feel valued and everyone can do their best work.”
Brian Schultz, chief operating officer of CMS, said each school campus would also receive some form of safety upgrades. He said behavioral changes observed after the Covid pandemic influenced some of their design decisions.
“We saw the proliferation of some aggression, we also so the proliferation firearms in schools, so we have to account for that,” Shultz said.
Economists working with the county expect there to be a tax increase associated with the bond should it pass. The cost to the taxpayer would be spread out over five years.
Development leaders said there would additional costs if the projects are put off any longer.
“It’s never going to be cheaper than it is right now,” LaCaria said. “As mind-bendingly expensive as that appears, it’s only going to be more expensive going forward.”
Officials narrowed down the list of 125 potential projects to 30 projects in order to fit within the financial limitations set by Mecklenburg County commissioners. The development team used a rubric to determine which needs were most immediate.
They said the most influential part of the scoring system is the facility’s impact on students learning. Schultz said principals and educators report some buildings can become so noisy, poorly lit, or overcrowded that student performance takes a hit.
The most recent school bond passed in 2017. Nearly 80 percent of projects promised from that package are complete. Officials estimate it can take upwards of seven years to deliver on all of the promises made in a single bond package.
Progress of construction projects within the district is tracked and the data is available to the public.
“It’s incumbent upon us to try to do as much as we can for as many students as we can every time we have an opportunity,” LaCaria said.
The referendum will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot for Mecklenburg County voters.