The Iredell County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of adding more than $126 million in school bonds to the primary ballot in March. At the meeting on Tuesday, several school representatives made their arguments for why the bonds are important to the county.
The bonds include $115,500,000 for Iredell-Statesville and Mooresville-Graded School Districts and $10,500,000 in community college bonds for Mitchell Community College.
The superintendents of the two school systems and a Mitchell representative each explained why a bond is needed now.
“We have people who tell me they have moved to this community so that their children could attend those schools (Lake Norman High School and South Iredell High School). That is such a complement to our community,” Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson said.
But, Johnson said, they are facing a crisis situation on those campuses.
“In both places we have multiple, multiple trailers in place serving those kids,” Johnson said. “We are facing the dilemma of being able to bring in more trailers because of watershed restrictions and things of that nature. At South Iredell High School, particularly, it breaks my heart to go down there and see kids eating lunch but there is nowhere to sit. So they are literally going outside on picnic tables and sitting in the hallways in the floors … in the hallways to eat their lunch each day,” Johnson said.
The cafeteria was built in 1966 and has not increased in size during that time but the school population has doubled in size, Johnson said.
Johnson left that visual for the commissioners as Mooresville Graded School District Superintendent Stephen Mauney presented a plan for the future.
“Part of our plan to address the growth that we are seeing in our district and the capacity obstacles that we are facing is to reconfigure our grades. To our three elementary schools our K-3 schools, kindergarten, first, second and third grade, and with the addition of a new middle school, which this whole plan is contingent upon getting a new middle school in Mooresville Graded,” Mauney said.
“Then we would reconfigure our grades at our elementary schools instead of being kindergarten through third grade we would make those kindergarten through second grade, therefore removing an entire grade level from our three elementary schools which would open up capacity at our elementary schools and address that need,” Mauney said.
The intermediate schools, which are currently grades 4-6, would become grades 3-5, which would still contain three grade levels that the intermediate schools have room for with the expected growth.
“And our middle school, which is currently seventh and eighth grade with over a thousand kids … when we build a new middle school we will now have two middle schools in Mooresville Graded that would allow us to have sixth, seventh and eighth grade,” Mauney said.
This is the most common grade configuration for middle schools in North Carolina, Mauney told the board.
“That would allow us to have three grade levels at our middle schools with roughly 700 students in each middle school. Then our high school would be nine through 12,” Mauney said. “So that’s our plan for addressing the overall growth that we are seeing and the capacity obstacles that we see in Mooresville Graded but once again that whole plan is contingent upon the bond funding and the completion of a new middle school.”
Mitchell Community College approached the board with numbers of impact that has been seen from the school.
“We do a very good job, if I may humbly brag on Mitchell Community College in training law enforcement and fire and EMT paramedics,” said James Hogan, vice president of advancement at Mitchell Community College. “I am confident if I ever have an emergency that a qualified trained professional is going to come to my assistance and I am grateful for the fact that we are able to instruct them as well as we do at Mitchell Community College.”
Hogan then discussed the value of an education at his school.
“You will get $4.60 back in earning potential for every dollar you spend at Mitchell,” he said.
This economic impact is not only for students but citizens alike.
“And as taxpayers for every dollar that we invest in Mitchell Community College we return $3.60 in economic impact through spending, through jobs, through again those individuals who are educated and earning their salaries. In the fiscal year that ended in 2018 Mitchell Community College had a $193 million impact in Iredell County,” Hogan said.
Speaking in favor
Tanae McLean told the board she is an employee of Mooresville Graded School District but she was speaking as a taxpayer.
“I know there are very few people who actually enjoy or get excited about paying taxes, my dad was one of them, he was also one of the wisest people I have ever known,” McLean said. “You see, despite not having a higher education he valued it — he valued education.”
McLean said she grew up as a farmer’s daughter in very rural Kansas and as family of farmers they were never excited about having to pay property taxes.
“He understood that he could pay taxes for schools and educations or he could pay for taxes for jails and inmate support, because there is a correlation between excellent education systems and lower crime,” McLean said.
In oppositionLynne Taylor spoke in opposition, just as she did at the previous hearing.
“I am not anti-growth, but I am anti-irresponsible spending and taxation and bonds,” Taylor started.
Taylor said that bonds are not fiscally responsible and not constitutionally valid.
“Do you know the future that you are setting up for Iredell students with school buildings that are totally devoted to workforce development, career-tech education and computer-based learning? I have, and it is not too far removed from indentured servitude, which is a violation of our 13th Amendment,” Taylor said.
“... And all the shiny new schools ... the county will not matter if our kids keep failing academically. This skill-based competency education removed knowledge-based education learning and replaced it with a false mastering.”
Commissioners’ thoughts“Since this topic has been brought up I have heard a lot of people share opinions what I have not heard. Is anybody offering an actual solution of where we are going to get the money to put an additional 15 to 16 hundred high school students … who will live, don’t live there now but they will live in predominately Troutman south,” Commissioner Ken Robertson said.
“Until you have an alternative solution for where we are going to put 1,600 students then you are not a part of the solution — be part of the solution.”
Robertson said that the board was being fiscally responsible.
“And the board … we said we could not go with big fat huge massive bond, it has to be as skinny as you can make it. Iredell-Statesville Schools came back with one project, Mooresville came back with one project, Mitchell came back with one project. Now if that is political shenanigans — I plead guilty,” Robertson said. “You got a very lean bond package that addresses the most critical needs in the county.”
Vice Chairman Tommy Bowles said that many people in the county have tax burden and the commission’s job is to make sure the taxes are as minimal as possible.
Commissioner Marvin Norman said he will always vote to put a bond on the ballot out of fairness to the citizens and that the citizens should have the right to decide.