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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Jim Blaine, Morgan Jackson hired to push Charlotte school bonds

Proponents of the $2.5 billion bond issue proposed for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hired two top Raleigh political consultants to help lead the campaign effort.

The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance is contracting with Nexus Strategies and The Differentiators to help promote the largest public school bond in state history, according to people familiar with the matter.

Nexus partner Morgan Jackson is chief political adviser of Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, who is running to succeed Cooper. The Differentiators is led by Jim Blaine, a former chief of staff to N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Cooper and Stein are Democrats, while Blaine is a Republican who was recently appointed to the UNC Chapel Hill board of trustees.

Also involved in the campaign is Douglas Wilson, founder of the Alexander Wilson Consulting in Charlotte. Wilson is a former deputy executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.

The Alliance is a regional business promotion group led by Janet LaBar. It “hired three consulting firms to help drive our efforts and are in the process of building out the rest of the team that will help ensure the children, teachers, and school leaders in our community have the resources they need to be successful and safe,” according to a prepared statement. More information will be disclosed after Labor Day, officials said.

The proposal including Jackson and Blaine was favored by the Alliance over bids from  Charlotte-based Chernoff Newman and Greensboro-based RLF Communications. RLF and Chernoff have had success as consultants for previous school bond campaign victories in Guilford and Mecklenburg counties, respectively.

Since 2002, Chernoff had worked on 12 Mecklenburg campaigns related to a combined $4.1 billion of bond issues for CMS, streets, parks, housing and Central Piedmont Community College. Each campaign won with more than 57% of the vote, including CMS’ $922 million bond issue in 2017 that passed with 72% approval.

North Carolina bond issues have been mostly successful in recent years, though the CMS  campaign may be more challenging because of its size. Earlier this month, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 5-3 to put the bond issue before voters in November. Among the no votes were Arthur Griffin, a former CMS board chair who was co-chair of the system’s previous bond campaign in 2017, and Pat Cotham, a veteran at large commissioner who regularly receives more votes than any other countywide candidate. The commission is made up of nine Democrats.

Cotham says approval of the bonds will lead to higher property taxes, which will hurt low-income residents. She says she favors a $1 billion bond issue that was rejected by CMS leaders.

CMS plans to use the $2.5 billion to build or renovate more than 20 schools. The cost of a new high school is now estimated at more than $130 million, up from $52 million spent when Rocky River High School opened in 2010, the Charlotte Observer reported.

CMS enrolled about 141,200 students in the 2022-23 school year, below the peak of 147,000 in 2017 and 2018. Many public charter and private schools have reported strong enrollment gains in the county in the past few years.

Mecklenburg County passed a budget in June in which officials estimate a mid-priced home would see an annual property tax increased of $273, or 17%. Future increases are expected to repay the proposed bond package.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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