No For CMS Bonds in November
*Editors note: Our friends at SPARK (Strategic Partners for Accountability and Reform of Key Educational Performances) and SMART (South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers) have provided PunditHouse with the following position paper outlining their opposition to CMS bonds on the ballot this November 5.
After allowing the bond process to unfold, it is now time for the citizens of Mecklenburg County to study all the facts, and make a decision in the best interest of the students.
What is more important?
“Brick and mortar” commitments out to 2020?
“Academics” now, delivered by qualified teachers who are fairly compensated for their commitments?
This proposed bond package offers political appeasements broken down by District, but fails to address the critical needs of today, occurring across all Districts. The old process of projecting and obligating ourselves to bonds for 6-7 years needs to change.
The process needs to adapt because of the immediate changes occurring in our area: the opening of more Charter Schools, the issuance of Vouchers to be used at Private Schools, the increase in Home Schools and the lack of adequate compensation for our teachers.
Further, CMS Central Office uses a forced top-down approach, instead of following the State-mandated rules for School Improvement Plans (a “bubble up” effect). Because the Community feels ignored and does not trust CMS, there is a current and rapid exodus to Charter Schools and Home Schools.
Therefore, we offer the following RECOMMENDATIONS:
- Defer this bond vote until issues can be resolved, and avoid the possible failure of this bond package.
- Implement an Annual Cost of Living Adjustment for Teachers and other School Staff.
- Redesign the models for forecasting Growth and Building Construction.
- Follow the State Statute for School Improvement Plans, allowing community inclusion.
Teachers before “Brick and Mortar”
According to the NC Department of Public Instruction, total federal, state and local spending is around $8600 per child. This would indicate that North Carolina is in 45th place for education spending. HOWEVER, when you compare other state spending in the budget passed by the General Assembly, North Carolina ranks among the highest national percentages of funding from state dollars (11th in the nation and 2nd in the Southeast according to DPI).
So where does the money come from in other states that spend more on education? It comes from local governments through increased property taxes and bonds, not through state dollars. In other words, county and city governments are not paying their fair share on educating our children. (2)
North Carolina is already allocating 50% of its State Budget to Education.
It is time for Mecklenburg County to mandate an annual Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) for the Teachers and other School Staff on the front line in education. This new County provision must be incorporated BEFORE the issuance of any more bond obligations. An annual COLA will help retain our Teachers and boost the morale of these employees that impact our students every day.
Bonds are being promoted by CMS with a “No Tax Increase related to bond vote” pledge. (3) But the ballot states “…and a tax to be levied for the payment thereof…”
Current elected officials and special lobbying groups cannot bind the voting privilege of future elected officials. This breaches credibility and trust. No one can guarantee what will transpire with future tax rates.
At a forum on Wednesday, September 25, 2013, Charlotte Mayoral Candidates Patrick Cannon and Edwin Peacock endorsed the bond package. The City does not give any money to Mecklenburg County or CMS to pay teachers or build buildings.
The City’s extension of tax incentives to corporate businesses, in effect, increases the tax burden on City residents. It is easy for Candidates seeking office to express taxation for another government entity, disregarding the misaligned objectives of a levied tax against their constituents.
The proliferation of Charter Schools in and near Mecklenburg County, who do not require County monies (bonds), will impact future decisions about building needs.
“As many as 170 new charter schools could open in North Carolina in 2015, including … 43 in Mecklenburg County.” (4)
The new Private School Voucher Program (Opportunity Scholarships) will also impact future decisions about building needs, with students getting the opportunity to attend private schools, beginning in FY2015. (5)
Again, if students choose schools outside of CMS, why would the County need to spend money on more buildings for CMS?
It is of great concern that MeckEd and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce helped form a campaign to raise $300K to help sell this bond referendum. (6)
Who represents the interests of the citizens or taxpayers?
BOCC measures population (NOT overcrowding) by # of registered voters in the area of CMS schools as part of their “Rubric Scoring.” CMS measures school growth based on cafeteria time and # of mobile classrooms at a campus. (7) (8)
Without alignment of these measurements, CMS’ needs/priorities don’t match the County’s priorities. There is a non-congruence of values on the prioritization between the two governing bodies. This process needs to be “fixed.”
NC General Statutes – Article 8B. 2. § 115C-105.27. requires schools to have School Leadership Teams. These teams are required by law to create a School Improvement Plan (SIP), with funding designations for Goals, which are developed by the School with input from Parents and Staff.
These plans are supposed to “bubble up” to the Supt Staff for inclusion and then be aligned for a budget request to the BOCC.
CMS does not have a revised effective Strategic Plan or any effective performance indicators. (9)
Dr. Morrison’s 22 Task Forces’ recommendations have not been aligned with the School Leadership Team’s School Improvement Plans, or even discussed with the local SLTs, who are mandated by law to bring forth a plan for their particular school needs. (10)
Specific examples of the mis-prioritization of proposed bonds monies are:
- D1 Elementary schools are overcrowded… no relief in bond package! (11)
D1’s first project (JM Alexander Middle replacement) has anticipated delivery of August 2017 (4 years), and only nets 3 classrooms.
D1’s second project (Davidson K-8 conversion) has anticipated delivery of January 2019 (6 years).
D1’s third project (CTE Institutes at North Mecklenburg HS) has anticipated delivery of August 2019 (6 years).
- D6 Elementary & Middle schools are overcrowded… no relief until 2020! (11)
D6’s first project (CTE Institutes at Independence HS) has anticipated delivery of August 2019 (6 years).
D6’s second project (new STEAM K-8 relief for overcrowded schools) has anticipated delivery of August 2020 (7 years).
- Where will Operating Budget dollars come from to service these new buildings?
When Grand Oak Elementary opened (and other replacement schools added total square feet), it cost $1.1 million per year in additional Operational Maintenance costs. (12)
- Overcrowded high school classrooms (13)
Lake Norman Charter maintains an average of 22 students per high school classroom. Why are taxpayers allowing CMS to crowd 35+ students into so many high school classrooms? Where is the relief for this situation?
(2) Senator Robert Rucho’s Newsletter Posted on Facebook 9/26/13
(9) Per Earnest Winston, CMS Chief of Staff, email dated 9/23/13: “With the revision of the strategic plan underway, departments are in the process of revising and creating new performance indicators.”
(12) Per Dennis Covington, CMS Executive Budget Director email dated 3/28/13: This category covers the net increase in total facilities square footage. The opening of one brand new elementary school and major facility renovations (i.e. new replacement schools additional square footage) coming on line will result in the addition of more than 280,000 total square feet in our facilities. In order to properly maintain this additional square footage, funds are required to cover staffing, utilities and contract services as outlined below:
Total cost for salaries and benefits = $.5M
Total cost of utilities (power, gas, water) = $.3M
Total cost of contracted services to maintain the new square footage = $.3M
Grand total = $1.1M
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