For a brighter future, we can make no better investment than in our children. That reality underlies the reasoning for the school bonds on the November 7 ballot.
The $922 million package will fund 29 projects: 17 new schools and renovations and additions at 12 campuses. These projects represent the highest priority capital needs for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). There will be modernized classrooms and learning spaces, relief for overcrowding, upgrades or replacements for aging facilities and systems, and more academic options for students and families.
But the bonds are about more than bricks and mortar; they truly speak to opportunity.
Too many of our children face tremendous odds against having productive and rewarding lives. As most of us know too well, education is a critical factor in overcoming barriers to the most basic opportunities. Substandard, overcrowded facilities are a drain on learning and have a cascading, negative effect on students, families and neighborhoods. They also burden our teachers and keep them from performing at their best.
A 2013 study ranked Charlotte dead 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. After studying the problem extensively, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force pointed to the importance of education in the “life trajectory” of poor children. The group encouraged us to become a community that cares about all children regardless of race and where they live, encourages their sense of belonging and having big dreams, and gives them every chance to achieve those dreams.
The school bonds reflect our collective desire to achieve this vision. One bonds project stands out as supporting this claim: $110 million to replace West Charlotte High School.
Built in the middle of the last century, the campus is one of the oldest in the public school system. (In fact, nearly half of CMS schools are at least 50 years old.) West Charlotte has a storied history in Charlotte and is a major source of community pride. But its dilapidated buildings and systems were proving too expensive and cumbersome to maintain. Rather than continuing to invest in renovations and repair, the board of education decided the more fiscally responsible course was to replace the school entirely. The project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
We can build new and improved schools. We can prepare our children for a future by giving them better career and technical training and opportunities that we never had. But we must act.
If we don’t approve the school bonds, progress toward meeting CMS’ $2 billion in capital needs will be delayed and cost more. Students will face a stronger headwind toward their learning and achievement. Families will have fewer academic options. And teachers will face greater hurdles in their classrooms.
Our public schools are one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s most important assets. Great public schools help keep the economy and quality of life strong for all of us.
On Election Day, vote YES to invest in our students, teachers and collective future.
Arthur Griffin is former member and chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Education, co-chair of the 2017 Vote Yes for School Bonds campaign, and a proud parent of CMS graduates and the grandparent of current CMS students. For more information: www.voteyesforbonds.com.