Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mobile classrooms: Critical safety risk?

On Tuesday night,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Rhonda Lennon publicly declared that mobile classrooms clustered outside crowded schools should be seen as a critical safety risk.

On Wednesday morning, Superintendent Heath Morrison said there's nothing unsafe about holding classes in mobiles.

Welcome to the wacky world of bond-project ranking.  For about an hour Tuesday,  the CMS board wrangled with Mecklenburg County Finance Director Dena Diorio,  trying to figure out how to work a ranking system that doesn't mesh with the CMS mission.

From the county's point of view it makes perfect sense.  County officials need a way to compare the need for schools, jails, parks and libraries without giving any category privileged status.

But as CMS and Central Piedmont Community College vie for the chance to put up to $300 million in projects on the November ballot, it's easy to see why educators feel hobbled by the process.

For instance:  County commissioners often say they want CMS to show how their investments boost student achievement. But when board member Tim Morgan asked whether CMS projects got any points for their intended effect on student performance,  the answer was simple:  No.

Enhancing economic development boosts a project's rating,  but the county uses a model that's geared toward traditional business recruitment.  Even though good schools increase property values and create a stronger work force,  those aren't the kind of things that show up.

The county ranking awards points based on the "extent to which population has increased in the area in which the project is located."  But as Lennon noted,  the need for schools is shaped by the number of school-age children,  which can be different from overall population trends.  "We prioritize based on the needs of children,  not adults,"  Lennon said.

Lennon suggested that declaring mobile classrooms a safety risk might gain some extra points in the building safety category.  "Parents perceive these mobiles to be a safety factor,"  she said.  Board member Richard McElrath hinted at a broader definition:  "I would put it as a high risk when a child walks out his front door and he's not going to work and he's not going to college."

Why all the confusion and consternation?  The county introduced this ranking system in 2011 and used it to set the schedule for finishing CMS projects approved in the 2007 referendum.  This is the first time it has been used to decide what goes on a bond ballot.

On Tuesday CMS approved a request for 18 projects totaling almost $294 million  (read the 10-year list it was pulled from here).  CPCC has made a pitch for $430 million.  The county is looking at a total of $300 million in bonds to last the next three years  --  or possibly $400 million for four years.  The ranking system will not only determine how big a slice of the bond pie each body gets,  but it could shake up the CMS priorities,  eliminating top-ranked projects from bond consideration while giving the green light to lower ones.

That created plenty of frustration.  But there were moments of harmony.  Board member Eric Davis said as a taxpayer he appreciates the county's push to rein in debt:  "I think any family can comprehend what happens when the credit card gets out of control."

Diorio said CMS isn't going to get the level of spending it wants until the economy rebounds.  "They say the recession is over,  but we're not seeing it in our revenue growth."  And while she didn't give the board the answers they wanted on the ranking system,  she urged them to keep working with county officials.  "No one has come forward to give me a better way,"  she said.  "I'm happy to entertain suggestions."


Wiley Coyote said...

Mobil classrooms = safety risk?

I started laughing when I read that.

But by God they'll be diverse!

Why Diversity is even on the list of Guiding Principles is ridiculous. You have to shake your head when it is put above Effective use of capital resources and Use of decision matrix. That shows CMS and the BOE don't care how they go about spending and prioritizing tax dollars.

Effective use of capital resources and Use of decision matrix should be one and two on the list.

The need for schools will no longer be shaped by by the number of school age children if you continue to expand magnets and bus them or make their parents drive all over the county. Toss in the proliferation of charter schools sucking more kids away from CMS which makes projecting growth a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Invest the money in neighborhood schools. Cut the rest of this baloney. CMS is too busy trying to please every "group" that this has become a joke. Now we are catering to the "anti mobile unit" group? My kids have been in mobile units for 11 years, I have never once been concerned for their safety. Do some real work CMS.

Anonymous said...

A few months back we almost had miles of fencing around all of these safety traps.

Anonymous said...

Those trailers have never been a "safe enviroment" to have at CMS. The fact of the chemicals used to make and service them would show you that. Their is only one way to secure those outposts as well in the campus and its to wrap them with fences. If you close schools and continue to pay companies to relocate students to the county you have to build new schools (or add to what you have). Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Gimme a break. Nobody cared about us students when we were going to CMS in these trailers 30 years ago. Why should I care now? CMS has always been overcrowded and will always be overcrowded.

Anonymous said...

8:08 good points. Why all the focus now on options for everyone? If CMS put the time, money and resources into each neighborhood school, we would certainly have an improved school system (and fewer buses running all over the county) resulting in smarter kids.

BolynMcClung said...

CMS has all the responsibility for educating the workforce the county needs to sustain a tax base. County finance made it clear the BOCC recognizes that.

Then it got down to the stares and dares.

"Why can't the BOCC treat CMS the way WCPS is treated by Wake Co," the board asked. The financial director answered, "We're in Mecklenburg."

One board member said the 2007 bond was never intended to be a 5 year was a 3 year bond. Graciously the county didn't call them on that. The board was wrong. It was clearly sold as the first half of a 10 year plan.

The board never even showed appreciation for the fact that when the county ran out of capital money, the BOCC still found ways to complete projects. The School Board wants to take credit for completing projects on time.......hey they should have paid tribute to the county for coming up with the dollars.

The School Board had a good argument but pretty much messed it up with tone of voice and not being prepared to make the case that in order to create an the economic value of the education of skilled labor there has to be a matching capital overhead. That's a very elegant case being made all over America right now.

Then there was the case of whose priority is it to set the priorities.

I think Dr. Waddell saw the problem but didn't state it correctly. The county said the best way for CMS to get what it needs is to run the project through the BOCC rubric. Ms. Waddell only asked for a delay….if only she had said….."Let's do that rubric thing and meet next week. Then the county and CMS can have a civil conversation." But she didn't.

If there's one thing worse than fighting over money, it's fighting over money that doesn't exist. That will never build schools……….only walls.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


The money does exist.

Just ask the 98%. They'll tell you to get it from the 2% because the 98% are entitled to it.

The School Board had a good argument but pretty much messed it up with tone of voice and not being prepared to make the case that in order to create an the economic value of the education of skilled labor there has to be a matching capital overhead. That's a very elegant case being made all over America right now. we haven't been thinking that way over the past 40 years and trillions of dollars?

If only we had spent 59 cents for a light bulb during that time.....

Ann Doss Helms said...

Bolyn, I think you're wrong about the time span pitched for the 2007 bonds. That was pre-recession. The county was putting CMS bonds on the ballot every 2-3 years and borrowing $200 million a year for CMS. The 10-year plan at that time was $2.5 billion, not $1 billion.

I found this from a story I wrote in April 2007:
"The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board expects to vote Tuesday on a 2007 school bond package as high as $509 million.
That's $109 million more than a citizens panel recommended last year, $82 million more than the package voters rejected in 2005, and $94 million more than the record-setting $415 million Mecklenburg voters approved a decade ago.

But some board members say that's what it will take to chip away at the $2.5 billion in new schools and fix-ups the district needs over the next 10 years, with 58,000 more students expected to enroll.

In fact, it would cost $1.4 billion to pay for all the projects needed in the next three years, including 35 new schools, according to a CMS report sent to board members Friday evening at the request of board member Ken Gjertsen."

Wiley Coyote said...

58,000 new students in 10 years?

I don't see it.

This from the CMS website:

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are experiencing growth similar to that within the county. On average, the district has grown about three percent each year since 1994. This equates to about 3,500 students per year.

Comparing 2000 Census data to 2010 for Mecklenburg County, there was an increase of +65,613 persons 19 and under. That number includes those over 18 out of school and those between birth and 3 years old. Take out several thousand for charters and private schools, I'd say the actual increase for CMS will be in the neighborhood of 35,000 to 40,000 - at most.

Anyone have actual 20 day enrollment number for CMS over the past 20 years?

Anonymous said...

Wiley is correct in his data and its part of the issue. The BOCC sadly enough does not trust CMS. Of course CMS BOE has really not earned that trust so it will continue as a shell game. End result students and their parents lose. Long term County loses with a uneducated work force. Then again they may go to work for the county and its low wages. Its all a set up ! Keith W. Hurley

Wiley Coyote said...

A little refresher course for our current BOE members.... and BOCC for that matter.

CMS Fails Math

Posted September 20th, 2007 at 6:48 AM by Jeff Taylor

How did CMS miss enrollment numbers by 44 percent? Why did CMS expect 5200 new students and only get 2900?

Well, one way is by failing to account for the impact of charter schools — a failure that may well be rooted in the philosophical opposition to charters. You see, the public school establishment as a whole refuses to accept that charters benefit public systems as a whole both by providing competition and by taking on students who would otherwise strain the larger system.

The evidence:

Alexander Middle in Huntersville, for example, had more than 110 fewer students than expected. Principal Joanna Smith said that’s partly because Lake Norman Charter School opened a new building nearby and added an eighth grade.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Yeah, those projections based on pre-recession enrollment growth did not pan out. In the current 10-year plan CMS is projecting an increase of 17,816 students from 2011 to 2021.

You can find historic attendance data back to 2004-05 at this link:

CMS budget book has 20th-day counts on p. 90 of the budget book for the previous five years.

Wiley Coyote said...

But some board members say that's what it will take to chip away at the $2.5 billion in new schools and fix-ups the district needs over the next 10 years, with 58,000 more students expected to enroll.

In the current 10-year plan CMS is projecting an increase of 17,816 students from 2011 to 2021.

Good grief. Why the two numbers?

There's a wide gap between 58,000 and 18,000.

Ann Doss Helms said...

58,000 was the 10-year growth projected in 2007 (halfway through, the growth has been about 12,000). 18,000 is the projection for 2011-2021 in the current 10-year plan, which obviously includes some revised assumptions. There's no doubt they were way high with the 2007 projection, but that was when they'd seen a few years of enrollment growth around 5,000 a year. (ps there's a better long-term enrollment chart on p. 89 of the budget book; goes back to 2003-04)

Wiley Coyote said...


My mistake. I read what you wrote but didn't tie it back in to 2007. I was still thinking in the present.

My apologies.

I still believe CMS needs to be heavily scrutinized for their past debacles with projections.

Several times the County has given more money to them based on faulty student projection data and they've never given back a dime.

Anonymous said...

2001 106,192
2002 109,605
2003 113,859
2004 118,599
2005 123,789
2006 129,011

I found these numbers from an old document I pulled from a CMS Budget proposal. If you just look at the years prior to 2007, you might think student enrollment was going to continue at a pretty brisk pace. At the time, my students predicted exponential growth of 4.5 - 5%. I believe we had 2 very healthy banks that were truly headquartered in Charlotte at the time. I can't imagine those old boys couldn't see the great recession coming. Wasn't former Governor Jim Martin a leader of the task force?

So what will growth be in the next decade? Make your best guess and adjust your plan as the decade unfolds. That is what CMS did over the last 6 years.


Wiley Coyote said...


There are 141,171 (2,695 in pre-K)
students in CMS today, in increase of 3,171 over year ago.

For the past 11 years, the student population increased from 106,192 in 2001 to 138,000 in 2011 for an increase of 31,808. That's an average increase of 2,892 students per year.

CMS is projecting an additional 17,816 students over the next 10 years or an average increase of 1,782 per year.

So growth is actually going to slow according to those numbers.

Anonymous said...

Turn out the lights CMS!


BolynMcClung said...


Subject: Spending history of bonds

In the ten years prior to 2007, CMS spent $300,000/day 365 days a year. The total was $109M per year or $1.2B for the time period. With the exception of the COPs authorized in 2006/2007 for relief schools, there was not enough money for even design in the summer of 2007. Those COPS drove the yearly average in the later years to $150M

I still have up my website. The lead story reads "On January 23rd, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' Superintendent Dr. Peter Gorman proposed a $2.5 billion 10-year Capital Improvement Plan. He cited current overcrowding, renovation need and population growth over the next ten years. He has proposed dividing the whole amount into a series of bonds to be approved by the voters." That was the fluffy stuff. See the next paragraph.

However, in my list of articles I created for the website is the 268 project list issued on 1/19/2007. Its title is "Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Proposed Ten Year Capital Needs in Priority Order." The amount is $519M.

The $2.5B 10-year plan was unusual. I heard many ways it was to be promoted. But the bottom line was seeing that the bonds had failed in 2005, it would be prudent to make the sales pitch to the public for $325M/3years or $500M/5 years. The later is what happended. Behind the scenes were all kinds of pipe-dreams.

As supporting evidence, also on the site is Bill James letter to the public, "The mathematics of matching CMS needs to available County debt." He covers the proposed increasing of spending to $300M a year and shows it unlikely. Facts prove him out. The BOCC allowed a five-year proposal at about $135M a year.

In James' letter is the proposed county revenues through 2012………….read and weep!

I understand the thinking of the $2.5B ten-year plan. It was a fantasy. Nobody yet understood the take-no-prisoner tactics that Gorman would use for passing the bonds. After the success at the poles, bunches of CMS people were drooling over a next bond in 3 years. But that was only after the passage.

Yes Ken Gjertsen came into play on this. It was his proposal to go for the 500M+ instead of 325M or thereabouts. His logic was if you need it, ask for it. If I'm not mistaken he wanted to ask for 2B but ultimately it was the $500M+ number. The board did ask for it but instead of 3years $325M it got 5years $516M… Bill James predicted.

Since that successful vote I've often looked at the S&P chart. Oct 2007 it hit 1561 and didn't see that again until this month. The sad thing is while the stock market has returned to the 2007 level, the state's economy is closer to 2002.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Don't trust the funny numbers coming out of CMS. Just look at the transportation system, they could cut buses out of the fleet right now, have reasonable school start/end times and run efficiently but they use funny numbers of bus rider eligibility to increase state funding. Very few buses are running at 100% capacity in the system, yet that is what their models are based on.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, now we have to worry about mobile units? Don't we have enough to worry about already.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for cutting PRISON AND JAIL costs and expenses.

Those should be as barebones and minimalist as possible.

I would also build them on the Mexican border where costs are cheaper and the sun is hotter.

Surely we can build cheaper prisons and jails.