Note to Reader: On Dec. 3, 2019, the Iredell County Commissioners voted unanimously to place two school bond referendums on the March 3, 2020 primary ballot. These school bond referendums are the result of a two and one-half study by the Iredell County Education Facilities Task Force. These bonds were created specifically to address the growth and overcrowding issues in our public education systems throughout the county.
Therefore, for clarity, I divided my research and thoughts on the school bond referendum into two blogs since this is the way they are presented on the upcoming election ballot. Last week, I wrote Part 1 which discussed the benefits of the school bond for Mitchell Community College via the Iredell County Community College School Bond. This week, I am sharing Part 2 of the blog which discusses the benefits for Iredell County Schools via the Iredell County Public School Bond.
So why now? Why do we so desperately need to pass the school bond referendums?
Well, many of our schools have already reached their capacity. And growth is projected to continue well into the near future. And with this bond, Iredell County Commissioners claim that we, as Iredell County residents, can be responsible for providing our students with new facilities that have long term benefits.
So I took the time to research the benefits of the Iredell County Public School bond, and how its allotment of $115,500,000 would benefit Iredell County Public Schools and the community.
Researching our Past:
I began by researching our past, specifically the 2014 school bond which Iredell County residents publicly voted to approve; this vote was split into two bonds as well (Iredell County Public Schools and Iredell County Community College), totaling $131.5 million for capital projects in Iredell-Statesville Schools, the Mooresville-Graded School District and on the campus of Mitchell Community College.
The approval of this bond by Iredell County voters resulted in extensive renovation and construction work on Mooresville High School and Cool Spring Elementary school, the construction of two new performing arts buildings on the campuses of North Iredell and South Iredell high school, two new middle schools for I-SS, and an allied health building for Mitchell Community College.
I’d like to take a pause here and say, “Well done Iredell County residents for being a part of such a tremendous growth opportunity for our county’s schools!”
These projects I listed above were completed or are being completed on time and under budget. Furthermore, due to the sound financial management of the county and school districts, there were funds remaining from the 2014 school bond that will be allotted towards the much-needed upgrade and repair work of schools in the northern end of the county.
I am proud of the citizens of Iredell County for taking responsibility of our youth and voting to ensure that our county’s students have the educational environment that they require in a facility that is safer, cleaner and more conducive to learning.
The Need for New Facilities and Renovations to Existing Buildings
You see, from my research, I learned that years ago, architects were designing buildings for whatever purpose needed at the time, and then those buildings were designated to be schools. Although it sounds like it can be that simple, it's really not fair to “stuff” our students in whatever environment seems convenient at the time. Students need a clean, safe facility that can be promotive to learning and education.
Switch to our current day, and schools are now being designed by architects specifically with our students in mind. And that is why these bonds make such a difference; they enable our schools and the infrastructure which houses them, to upgrade and improve their facilities — all for the benefit of the student. For example, I volunteer on a regular basis at Cool Spring elementary school and I have seen the results first hand as I watched the school’s infrastructure transform from small dark, damp separated buildings to a new, well-lit, secure facility that provides students an environment to solely focus on learning.
Furthering my research, I received the opportunity to tour the Woodland Heights location slated to be the new area for the projected new middle school — a project that resulted from the passing of the 2014 school bond.
This construction site was thrilling to see, knowing that our country residents made it possible. This location will be located beside Woodland Heights Elementary, located just off of Brawley School Road. This middle school project and Third Creek Middle School, (which will be located beside Third Creek Elementary) are the final projects of the 2014 School Bond funds, and both are on track to open within the 2020-2021 school year.
That tour was led by Iredell-Statesville Schools, Director of Construction and Facilities Use Coordinator, Rob Jackson. He has coordinated over 27 major projects similar to this one, which totals to over $280 million dollars of an impact on education in the creation of learning facilities that were completed on time and/or below budget.
According to Jackson, no matter where this overcrowding was occurring in the county, and no matter where this school construction project’s projected location is, the same attention is paid to detail and quality of that new construction, with an idea that all students would be subject to the same opportunities. Because the idea is, again, that we should provide all of our students with an environment to grow and learn, while freeing them from any unnecessary distraction or obstacle such as an outdated facility or overcrowding.
I also toured the overcapacity intermediate school to receive an opportunity to see firsthand what faculty, staff and students have to deal with when it comes to the the crammed facilities.
So when we turn our attention to the 2020 Iredell County Public School Bond, at hand, we see a similar situation. Projects of the Iredell County Public School bond include a new middle school for the Mooresville-Graded School System, and a new high school for Iredell-Statesville Schools.
As an Iredell County Commissioner candidate, I believe that: Buildings age but there will always be students looking for learning, growth and education. We can’t ignore that our educational facilities are aging and/or are no longer able to accommodate the growing student population of our county.
The only solution is to grow, to keep building facilities, and making necessary upgrades/renovations to our existing facilities.
This solution is way more conducive in comparison to other options like re-distributing students to schools based upon the number of students that attend that school, and not necessarily based on where they live.
And again, we can’t lose site of how fiscally responsible our county and school districts are with these funds. As there was in the 2014 bond, if passed, there will more than likely be funds left over from the 2020 school bond. And as in the past, these funds will be put towards much needed renovations throughout the school districts in our county.
School Maintenance Departments: The Unsung Hero
With growth and the building of new facilities, comes the weight of maintenance, which was realized on me after a conversation I had with Dr. Kenny Miller, Director of Maintenance for Iredell-Statesville Schools.
In my conversation with Dr. Miller, I gathered some intriguing facts about ISS schools, just to gain some perspective on what it is like for one school district to care for the aging facilities in our county while also keeping up with the growth:
Counting the 2 new middle schools, that total of 42 sites comprising
That’s 4.4 million square feet, with is equivalent to 2900 homes that are 1500 square feet in size.
Those comprising sites total over 1650 acres.
The age of the structures range from early 1940's until 2020.
There are a variety of 3818 filters that need to be changed regularly.
There are 15 large boilers with associated piping, and over 15 chillers that require maintenance.
And on top of all that, a decade ago, ISS maintenance department had more staff and 500,000 less square feet. Jump to 10 years later, and with 10 less staff members, that barely touches on the reality that the maintenance team is stretched so thin in many directions all over the county, with work orders coming in steadily.
I spoke with Cloverleaf Elementary- an IB PYP Candidate School, Principal Andy Mehall if and how the maintenance department impacts his school and the educational routine of the school on a daily basis.
Mehall stated that work orders can happen everyday, with issues such as clogged gutters, leaking sinks, roof leaks, the HVAC system going down, light ballast going bad. All of these things occur on a daily basis but school has to continue.
He even recounted a few examples of big maintenance jobs such as a time when a pipe froze from the sprinkler system and then burst — dropping thousands of gallons of water along with the ceiling. In that situation, maintenance was on the scene for clean up and repairs in no time at all, and the school was ready to operate the next day. In another scenario, a valve fail on a boiler unit resulted in diesel fuel spilling on the ground, which shut down the heating system. This occurred at 4:00AM but maintenance was called, the issue was fixed, the heat was turned back on, and students attended school that morning.
These are two stories are an example of why our school district’s maintenance departments remain unsung heroes.
As an Iredell County Commissioner candidate, I promise to not only be a champion for school bonds and the impact they have on our county’s students and education. Furthermore, I will see how we can work to allot some of these dollars -- not only into the renovation and construction of previous and new facilities -- but also into the department that is responsible for the maintenance of these facilities.
From my research, and the conversations I had, it is clear that a school cannot function without a hard-working maintenance department. These individuals work so hard to ensure that our educational facilities are up and running for the benefit of our young minds. And they do all this while dealing with the growth, and not necessarily having the resources to keep up with that growth, but they do a spectacular job.
Current Interest Rates and Why the Time to Build is Now
It is common knowledge that deciding when is the ideal time to make a purchase and pay the least amount of interest is key to saving money on a loan.
But I wanted to have a better understanding of these components and the attributes of knowledgable savings, so I contacted my friend, William Morgan, President of Capital Management Group of the Carolinas, Inc.
Morgan has 35 years of experience in the business, and has been involved with creating a variety of economic strategies through his service as a Statesville City Councilman. During our conversation, he shared with me that the North Carolina economy is out-pacing the national average, which means our economy is still growing and as a result, the earnings are exceeding expectations.
Other highlights from our conversation regarding the economy:
There is a matching or lower unemployment rate compared to previous years, especially with women and minorities
Consumer confidence is high
Interest rates still low; Significantly lower rates are not anticipated
The credit rate is strong
Borrowing power is solid
With these facts in place about our current economy, it is clear that it is the optimum time for terms of a bond.
And furthermore, the need for the facilities is very current and the projected growth of our county’s young age group is inevitable. If these demographics continue to develop the way they are projected, then our county’s need for optimal, conducive educational facilities will become increasingly urgent.
The solution? We act now by supporting the 2020 school bond funding for the benefit of our county’s schools.
Dispelling Negative Boundaries in our County; Moving Forward as One
Also added to my research is a public statement made at the Iredell County Board of Commissioners meeting, in which a speaker during the public comment period addressed a disparity between Iredell County Taxpayers, and a specific division when it comes to the school bond.
I reached out to this speaker, and received permission to share some of her words.
She began by reflecting on her youth, and how her dad — a farmer — was not particularly a fan of paying taxes, but at the same time he was an advocate for education. Not having a formal education himself, and struggling with the rising taxes and the effects it had on his farm, he still championed the idea that his tax contributions would go towards the betterment of his community. He understood that he could pay taxes for schools and education, or he could pay taxes for jails and inmate support — because there is a correlation between better education and lower crime. For what it is worth, there is also a correlation between good educational systems and business growth which brings in tax revenues for our county.
She furthermore stated her frustrations that those outside of the Mooresville-Graded School District (MGSD) feel that in terms of this bond, taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be concentrated there to meet overcrowding needs.
But regardless, individuals who operate within the MGSD district are Iredell County Citizens and pay Iredell County taxes. In fact, individuals in Mooresville pay the highest percentage of Iredell County taxes — at approximately 70 percent — due to concentrated population in the southern end of the county. So, the idea that MGSD doesn't contribute or have a right to the county funds they help generate is nonsensical.
I agree with this speaker in that we should shed these distracting and ridiculous stances of one side of the county vs. the other. Instead, we should stand together as a county and move forward as one in our growth. We are all Iredell County residents, and our tax dollars should be allotted to wherever they are needed in the county at the time.
I can also make a promise as an Iredell County Commissioner, I will ensure that tax dollars are used where they are needed with no county division or disparity.
Speaking with School District Leaders
In a conversation with Dr. Stephen Mauney, Superintendent for Mooresville-Graded School District (MGSD), there has been consistent growth within the school district. And this consistent growth becomes a serious matter that Mauney has been consistently balancing.
For over six years now, the three elementary schools within the MGSD have been at or above capacity. Even with reconfigurations, the most reasonable and fiscally-responsible solution is to build a new middle school. In fact, this project was originally part of the 2014 bond but was removed with the understanding it would be considered high priority for next build.
Some of the reserve funds from the 2014 bond will be used to renovate and add additional classroom space to schools in the district but MGSD has reached an at-capacity need for more facilities. So much so that MGSD has taken it upon themselves to take a private loan of 8 million dollars to fund their district for additional needs.
Looking Towards the Future
Through extensive research, I have concluded that...
...as an Iredell County Commissioner that I support the Iredell County Public School bond.
Not only will this bond enable us to continue along our path in providing Iredell County students with facilities that cultivate growth, education and learning. In doing so, we must keep building facilities and make necessary upgrades/renovations to our existing facilities.
In turn, this will create a vibrant, talented workforce as we continue to invest in our youth and it will also draw workforce development to our community with the promise of diverse educational opportunities for students.
Furthermore, if voters approve the referendums during the March 3 election, the projected tax increase to 53.75 cents per $100 of valuation would still keep Iredell County at one of the lowest tax rates in the region.
As an Iredell County Commissioner candidate, I believe that we must support our students.
So vote for a Leader Like Neader on March 3 during the primary election!
For more information on voting, visit: https://www.co.iredell.nc.us/162/Elections