Oct. 10, 2023
Just over 30 days from when Mecklenburg voters weigh in on a $2.5 billion bond proposal for CMS school construction and renovation, Forum participants today peppered representatives from the Vote Yes for Bonds group and from CMS with questions:
- Why is new construction sold as a way to help children learn, when what really emperils their learning is what they learn on the streets?
- Why are there so few yard signs out, and why is financial information so sparingly shared?
- If teachers leave high-needs schools for postings elsewhere, will new school buildings really solve that problem, or are other initiatives in order?
Unspoken was high anxiety about how longtime minority residents will be unable to pay the higher property taxes that the bonds will require in coming years, and how that might accelerate gentrification.
Janet LeBar, who said she was at the Forum to speak on behalf of businesses’ interests in quality education, did not say why the bond campaign to promote the bonds to the public got a late start if it did, or whether campaign spending was lower than in previous successful campaigns. She thanked the audience for its critique of how the effort was not resonating with westside neighborhoods. She said the group would consider revising the flier, shown at right and available as a PDF download here, whose lack of specificity came in for criticism.
Mary McCray offered a number of stories about how, as a teacher, she had experienced how high-needs schools had gotten short shrift, particularly in support for teaching supplies. She recalled seeing in a more recent visit how state-mandated online testing had to be carefully scheduled to prevent crashes in Internet access facilities at an older school.
Douglas Wilson, who last addressed the Forum while serving on Kay Hagan’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 2014, introduced himself not as a political consultant but as a New York City kid with a stutter and hearing loss who found it challenging to learn in a noisy, out-of-date NYC Catholic school but thrived when he arrived at a newly built high school in South Carolina. In a session focused mostly on public relations and how poor neighborhoods need much more reinvestment than any school building will provide, Wilson focused on the beneficiaries of a bond issue success: teachers teaching, and students learning.
As a CMS employee, Dennis LaCaria is barred from advocating for the bonds. His contribution instead was to outline the detailed and lengthy, often seven-year, process to get an inadequate school building rebuilt or renovated, and why projects approved by voters in 2017 are just now coming online. He reminded his listeners that the 30 projects collected in November’s $2.5 billion bond referendum are 30 of 150 projects that he says CMS knows about. And he opened his short presentation by taking pride in having placed higher priority in the ranking of construction projects on issues that directly affect the learning environment. Those issues include things like noisy HVAC facilities that prevent young children from hearing easily in nearby classrooms. Sagging floors, leaking roofs, mold, mildew, asbestos – with scores of buildings across Mecklenburg, CMS has quite a list of issues to deal with.
Growth is good, LeBar said. But today was also the day Charlotte lost its latest $65 million pitch for a growth engine – in this case a tennis development near the Catawba River. Is it time for the community to rethink how it is investing its money? Are growth and stature and worldclassiness the top priorities, or is taking care of people?
Near the end of the video below, westside resident Carlenia Ivory-Cantey, who was involved in one of the proposals for redevelopment of the old Eastland Mall site, offered a thank-you to Charlotte City Council, which on Monday approved additional time for the two developers to blend their proposals into what might be the final plan for the east Charlotte site. Her spoken summary includes a list of the attractions the site is currently expected to include, once construction is complete.