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Lake Norman chamber votes to oppose $922 million CMS bond

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce voted Thursday to oppose the $922 million Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bond referendum, saying it does too little for crowded northern schools.

It’s the latest vote of northern opposition, after local governments in Huntersville and Cornelius took a similar stand. The chamber represents 960 members in the northern part of Mecklenburg County.

The chamber has been discussing and debating bonds for weeks. President Bill Russell said supporting the bond was never an option, but the chamber might have stayed neutral to avoid “the optics” of business leaders opposing money for public education.

“The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has always advocated for strong support of our local elementary and secondary educational systems, believing that the foundation for any healthy regional economic engine includes a robust school system,” Thursday’s statement said. But it went on to say that voters should reject the bonds and let public officials explore other ways to finance school construction.

The 29 projects that the bond plan would pay for are mostly south of the I-485 loop, with the exception of a new language immersion magnet school that would be built at the site of the old J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville.

School board member Rhonda Lennon and County Commissioner Jim Puckett, who represent the northern suburbs, both say a “no” vote would force CMS to make another try at a project list that should do more to relieve northern crowding. CMS is still finishing projects funded by 2013 bonds, and the county can borrow money to start some new projects without voter approval.

The bond referendum will be on the Nov. 7 ballot, with early voting starting Oct. 19.

The Charlotte Chamber is backing the Vote Yes for Bonds campaign, with more than $350,000 pledged to encourage support. A recent Elon University/Charlotte Observer/WBTV poll of registered Mecklenburg voters found almost 78 percent supporting the bonds.

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