CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mecklenburg County Commissioners are asking Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to hand over control of their facilities maintenance, citing multiple state health inspection violations.
“Some of them are disgusting, some of them are completely rundown, some are starting to have structural failure due to lack of maintenance,” said Jim Puckett, Vice Chair, Mecklenburg County Commissioner for District 1.
According to the North Carolina Public Health Inspection's website, schools including Lebanon Road Elementary, Briarwood Elementary, East Mecklenburg High School and Garinger High School all received a “C” rating in 2016.
At Lebanon Road Elementary for example, inspectors “observed the water fountains throughout the school building were tarnished/corroded mouth spouts.” They also found dirty and rusty sinks, dirty toilets in both the girls and boy’s restrooms, bathroom stalls without doors and bacteria growing on the walls of the boy’s bathroom and on the ceiling of the media center.
“CMS built these buildings and has maintained these buildings and if they’re falling apart than the questions is -- they were the only ones in charge of it, what are they going to do differently?” said Puckett.
What they are going to do now is the big question. In early 2016, CMS asked county commissioners to pass an $805 million bond referendum. The referendum would have then been placed on the November ballot for voters to decide.
In an op-ed written in May 2016 by Superintendent Ann Clark, she said, “It’s been said that justice delayed is justice denied. I think that applies to maintenance of our public schools, too: Maintenance delayed is maintenance denied, and sometimes the delay increases the final cost as well.”
Clark said that a portion of the bond money would be spent on repairing and renovating older schools and building new ones, saying 75 CMS school are more than 40 years old. Eleven CMS high schools were built before 1970.
“Our bond request would address some of the most pressing repairs and renovations in our district. Eight of the projects are at high schools and the plan also would add two new high schools that we badly need. The bond request would build 10 new schools, replace four others and renovate or add on to 14 more. It would give us about 1,100 new classrooms, removing the need for 300 mobiles,” Clark wrote.
But CMS’ 2016 request was denied.
This week, they asked again, this time for a $798 bond referendum to be put on the 2017 ballot, but again were denied.
“Before we start handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to fix old or broken facilities lets make sure that the people that are handling it are doing it properly,” said Puckett.
Puckett says he sent out an email Wednesday morning to both the board of county commission and CMS suggesting that CMS put out an RFP (request for proposal).
“Just to see what the options would be as far as having private sector contract and maintain the business and their buildings to a certain level of cleanliness,” said Puckett.
Puckett says the county outsources all of the maintenance with the jail facilities, so he knows there are private companies that will do it at a standard agreed upon by contract, and if they don’t meet the standards of the contract, the contract won’t be renewed.
Puckett says CMS already allocates monies for maintenance.
“If I remember correctly they have somewhere in the neighborhood of 92 to 96 million dollars a year for maintenance which is a pretty hefty amount of money,” he said.
County Commissioner Bill James also believes CMS should hand over control of their maintenance. In an email to NBC Charlotte, commissioner James said, “From my perspective, the only solution to fixing CMS’ inability to adequately do repairs is to have the state give the County title to all CMS property and give us the responsibility to perform all maintenance. I have discussed this with some folks in Raleigh recently.”
Both commissioners mentioned there are also other reasons the county declined CMS’ request for the bond, including the unfinalized student assignment plan, phase two of the magnet program and how they might reconsider K-8 schools.
“You know 4-year-olds to 15-year-olds in the same facilities – a lot of the public has a problem with that,” said Puckett.
Puckett says CMS will likely have to move quickly to address the county’s concerns, saying in order for the bond to make the 2017 ballot, the county would need to approve the referendum sometime before June.