Q: What is a bond and how is it used?
A: A bond is a way for governments to borrow money at a low interest rate to finance building projects. Mecklenburg County issues bonds to fund new school construction, repairs and renovations for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) facilities.
Q: Why are the bonds on the ballot?
A: The lowest interest rates for borrowing money are available by issuing “General Obligation” bonds. State law requires voter approval through a referendum. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted to put the bonds on the ballot at the request of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.
Q: Why are the bonds on the ballot now?
A: CMS has a county-wide, long-range capital building program that began more than a decade ago and stretches into foreseeable future. The program reflects a wide range of facility and infrastructure challenges that CMS must address to meet its education mission, covering everything from enrollment growth and campus safety to food services and emerging technology in the classroom. It is vital that we continuously invest in our educational buildings – and not delay – to ensure an optimal learning environment for every child in CMS.
Q: Will the 2017 bonds request cover all CMS construction and renovation needs?
A: No. CMS has identified in its 10-year plan more than $2 billion in projects that must be built. At $922 million, the bonds package will cover 29 of the system’s highest priority projects.
Q: If the 2017 bonds win approval, will my tax rate increase as a result?
A: No. There will be no tax rate increase related to the bond vote in November. The Mecklenburg County finance office projects that revenues will cover the debt service required to issue the proposed bonds, meaning a tax increase will not be needed to fund the projects in the package if approved by voters.
Q: If the bonds are defeated, will my taxes go down?
Q: How were the 2017 school bond projects chosen?
A: CMS staff considered a range of factors including school capacity, facility conditions, project type, new program needs, and health and safety impacts. CMS staff put these factors into a matrix, which ultimately awarded each project a priority score. The entire list of capital needs was then ranked by score. The County Commission put forward the list of projects requested by the Board of Education.
Q: When will the bonds be issued, and when will the projects they are funding be built?
A: Bonds are issued as construction occurs and based on the County’s plans, will take place over the next five years. Construction will begin based on a number of factors over that timeline.
Q: Can bond money be used to pay teacher salaries or other operating expenses?
A: No. By law, bond funds cannot be used to pay for teacher salaries or any other operating expenses – they can only be used for capital projects. That said, the needs of our students, families and community are real. Bond funding is part of a diversified funding model to satisfy all ongoing needs. While only elected officials can decide issues like teacher pay, we as voters decide funding for building new schools and updating aging facilities.
Q: I don’t have children in CMS. Why should I care about the bond request?
A: Strong public education options are critical to everyone in our community. Good schools provide a well-educated workforce to attract and retain business and industry. This supports a vibrant community and economy. Well-maintained, updated facilities are an important aspect of creating a healthy learning environment. Additionally, strong schools lead to higher real estate values for homeowners when it comes time to sell and investments in school construction help fuel the local economy.
Q: Voters approved school bonds in 2013. Why does the county need more money now?
A: CMS plans for its capital needs on a rolling 10-year window. The system updates its capital plan based on enrollment growth, aging facilities and other factors. The 2013 school bonds package is on schedule and the last project will be completed in the summer of 2020. The bonds on this year’s ballot are designated for an entirely new and different list of projects that are planned over the next several years.
Q: How are the bonds and the new student assignment plan related?
A: CMS leaders considered the new student assignment plan while creating the bond package to accomodate changes that are part of the assignment plan, as well as many other facility-related needs. For example, the bonds will deliver 1,250 new or renovated classrooms and 20,000 newly built or renovated seats. Those figures reflect 4,000 new slots in magnets or school options in seven magnet schools or programs. As a result of capital construction and renovation program, CMS also hopes to eliminate the need for 335 mobile classrooms on impacted campuses.
Q: Why vote? Aren’t the projects going to happen anyway?
A: Without bonds, funding would come from more expensive forms of financing such as Certificates of Participation (COPs) and the County would not be able to meet all the needs addressed by this bond referendum. CMS currently has $2 billion in unmet building needs, and each year that cost will grow due to inflation and wear and tear on existing buildings. The sooner we build, the less expensive it is. If you don’t vote, you will miss the opportunity to make your opinion known about where and how school construction money is spent. Projects would be delayed if not shelved indefinitely.
Q: How do I know that CMS will spend the bond money as promised?
A: The system has proven to be a trustworthy steward of prior bond funds. CMS officials regularly report to the Board of Education on the status of the capital building program. Additionally, CMS staff meets with County staff quarterly to review schedules and status of projects. A citizens group called “The Bond Oversight Committee” serves as an outside check on the district’s spending to ensure funds are spent appropriately. Some variations in planning may occur due to enrollment growth, economic conditions and other factors. However, CMS has been diligent in updating its projections and informing the Board of Education, county officials, school families and the public at large, accordingly.
Q: Beyond just “bricks and mortar” needs, why is this vote important?
A: The quality of its public schools says a great deal about the health and vitality of a community. Inadequate facilities hinder learning and have a cascading, negative effect on students, families and neighborhoods. A 2013 study ranked Charlotte last out of 50 of the largest U.S. cities in economic mobility, or the ability of a child living here who is born in the lowest income category to rise to the top category by adulthood. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, a group of 20 community leaders, spent 18 months in 2015 and 2016 focusing on this issue. Not surprisingly, among its findings was the importance of education in the “life trajectory” of impoverished children who face tremendous challenges and barriers to opportunity. The task force’s “highest aspiration” was that our leaders and the public at large “rally around a vision of Charlotte-Mecklenburg as a community that cares about all our children and youth – regardless of income, race or zip code – and where all our children feel they belong, have big dreams, and find the opportunities to achieve those dreams.” Simply put, the bonds vote on November 7th reflects this vision.
To learn more about the 2017 proposed bond projects, visit www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsbondinfo.