A bill introduced in the North Carolina senate would allow counties to take ownership of schools. Some Mecklenburg County commissioners say they would want to own CMS buildings, if that bill passes. That’s put CMS officials on the defensive.
This is how schools get built in North Carolina: Since school districts don’t have taxing authority, voters approve bonds for the construction. The county borrows the money and then passes it on to the school district.
The bill would cut out this last step and allow counties to take over ownership of existing schools. It started off as a way to settle a dispute in Wake County. But several Mecklenburg County commissioners like the idea. Commissioner Karen Bentley says it makes financial sense. Say, a school closes and the county wants to use the property, the county would have to lease or buy it back.
“So any business-minded person would understand that that’s not a good deal for the county and county taxpayers to have to buy something back that they spent years servicing the debt on,” says Bentley.
But the bill would also give counties the option of taking over schools’ maintenance, deciding where new schools should be built, and constructing them. Bentley and other commissioners want a hand in that.
CMS board chairman Mary McCray held a press conference Monday to address the matter. She said the school district is a better steward of taxpayer dollars.
“We have the proof and know-how to bring our buildings in under budget and on time,” says
She said CMS completed 92 building projects on time and under budget over the past ten years. In comparison, she pointed out the county’s big construction project, the courthouse, was over budget and took longer than expected.
McCray also said CMS has the know-how to manage a lot of property. She said the district is responsible for 20 million square feet of building space, whereas, the county takes cares of about 3 million.
The school board plans to meet with county commissioners soon to discuss the matter.
The bill passed the senate on the first reading and is expected to become law.