There’s a fight brewing, so grab your popcorn.
To help me explain, here are five basic questions about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ current plan to ask for a school bond vote, answered:
I don’t have kids. Why should I care about school bonds?
Today’s bonds build tomorrow’s schools.
If you’re planning on having kids (maybe? perhaps?) in the next 10 years or so, your kids will be affected by this year’s bond vote.
Besides, good education now means better economies and societies later.
What is a school bond?
You can think of it like a mortgage, or a line of equity for home improvements, with a really great interest rate.
(By the way, I stole that analogy from Elyse Dashew, vice chairwoman and at-large member of the school board, during a recent interview.)
In other words, a school bond is a low-interest loan used to pay for school infrastructure over a long period of time. Bond money is used for projects like building new schools, bringing old schools up to current standards, and adding classroom space.
What is the process for getting a school bond approved?
(1) Capital needs assessment: CMS determines and prioritizes the district’s infrastructure needs, along with what the costs will be for those projects.
(2) Public discussion: CMS presents that assessment publicly at a school board meeting. Public forums, meetings, and discussions are held so that the public can weigh in and the school board can make changes.
(3) School board approval: A final Capital Improvement Plan is approved by the school board.
(4) Presentation to the County Commission: The school board makes a formal request for the money.
(5) County Commission approval**: Commissioners decide whether or not to include the bond on the ballot.
(6) Public Approval: Vote!
**Note: The County Commission can approve an amount smaller than the initial request rather than withholding the bond from the ballot altogether, which the Commission did the last time CMS requested a bond (2013).
Where are we now in the process?
Teetering on the edge of Step 3. We’re still waiting on the school board to formally finalize the Capital Improvement Plan before making the official request of the County Commission. But the commissioners aren’t pleased.
Why is the County Commission being salty?
They wanted to wait until 2017 to consider another school bond. It’s a little bit like this:
County Commission: We said you could have another bond in 2017.
School Board: Yeah, but our schools are falling apart. And many of them are severely overcrowded now. We can’t put this off any more!
County Commission: But we just gave you a bond in 2013.
School Board: Um, for less than we needed – remember? Look, we did the best we could with it, but we’re growing in enrollment and running out of space.
County Commission: We said 2017, and we control the money.
School Board: Oh, so you’re gonna be like that. (rolls eyes) Figures. You want your kids to learn?!
County Commission: Don’t do that… This is about you asking for more money when you knew we weren’t ready to give it. So don’t even try it. Don’t even ask.
School Board: No, we’re asking. What, you think taking care of these kids is free?
And if you’re new to the dynamics between the County Commission and the school board (or the City Council, for that matter), this is pretty standard drama.