BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell County commissioners on Tuesday voted to place a $126 million school bond referendum on the March 2020 ballot.
Following a public hearing, commissioners unanimously agree to put the question on the March 2020 ballot and let voters decide whether or not to fund two new schools and add new facilities for Mitchell Community College.
Iredell-Statesville Schools, Mooresville Graded School District and Mitchell Community College officials approved resolutions in support of a bond referendum for school construction projects in September.
The proposal includes $80 million for a new I-SS high school in the southern end of the county, $35 million for a new middle school for MGSD, and $10 million for Mitchell. An additional $500,000 will be set aside for I-SS and MGSD and $500,000 will be set aside for Mitchell for possible closing costs.
Jennifer Christian, who chairs the Iredell County Education Facility Task Force, explained that the members of the task force, which includes representatives from all geographic areas of the county, selected the priority projects for the three school systems.
The task force representatives worked for two years to create a 10-year master plan, which has three phases, with the most critical projects being completed first.
Christian said that due to the effective management of the 2014 bond funds, the school systems will have use of capital reserve funds this year to cover many of the projects included in phase I.
Projects funded by bond reserve money are:
♦ I-SS: A new and renovated/repurposed vocational shop for West Iredell High School, new Career Technical Education shops and physical education upgrades for Statesville High School, and four to six new classrooms for Lakeshore Elementary School.
♦ MGSD: Renovating and upgrading South Elementary and Park Elementary. This will include a gymnatorium, upgrading mechanical and plumbing and other needs. The district will use a loan to pay for some of this work.
♦ Mitchell: Acquiring land and renovating the career science building.
However, there are three critical needs not covered by the bond reserve funds. “Really that is why we are here tonight,” Christian said.
If the bond is approved, the money will help MGSD address capacity issues as well as overcrowding at South Iredell High, which is over capacity and this August welcomed its largest freshman class ever, and Lake Norman High School, which is also over capacity by several hundred students.
“With the current enrollment data combined with the growth in that area, the time to move forward is now,” Christian said.
Mitchell officials plan to construct a driving pad, classroom space, storage space and training space for law enforcement and EMS programs.
“In closing, I would submit that there is strong data and support to fund the remaining critical education facility needs identified in the 10-year master plan,” Christian said. “Keep in mind, these aren’t all the needs … they are the most mission critical.”
Following Christian’s remarks, the superintendents of the two school districts and vice president of Mitchell Community College addressed the board in support of the bond.
During the public hearing, Lynne Taylor of Mooresville, said she’s against the bond. She pointed out that a big chunk of tax dollars is already going towards education and related services.
Taylor said that bonds are not fiscally responsible or constitutionally valid as they come at the expense of the taxpayer.
“I urge my fellow citizens to not be a part of this bond,” Taylor said, noting that this bond would be followed by future ones.
Tanae McClean, the public relations officer for MGSD, spoke in favor of the school bond, explaining that it is for the betterment of the community.
She mentioned that there’s a “correlation between excellent education systems and lower crime. There is also a correlation between good education systems and business growth, which brings in revenues for the county.”
A majority of those in attendance were in favor of the bond.
Commissioners Gene Houpe, who was out of town on county business and participated by phone, said the facilities task force made its recommendations after putting in a tremendous amount of work.
“These are not just people from the school system saying, ‘This is what I want,’ ” Houpe explained. “These are needs that have been prioritized and met.”
The projects are necessary to address the population growth in the south end of the county, he explained.
Need to Know
County commissioners are charged with building, equipping and maintaining school facilities. N.C. General Statutes 115C-408 (b) stipulates that public-school facilities requirements will be met by county governments.
Iredell commissioners are responsible for funding facility construction projects for I-SS, MGSD and Mitchell Community College.
Their custom has been to ask voters to approve a bond referendum, giving commissioners permission to borrow money or raise taxes for the projects.
If the bond is approved, it would go into effect the following tax year.
The county’s financial team estimates that property taxes will increase by 1 cent and will be able to generate roughly $130 million.