Panthers, Hornets, Atrium Health: These are groups behind push for record $2.5B CMS bond

The Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Atrium Health and Foundation for the Carolinas are among the major groups helping propel the record school bond campaign to nearly a half-million dollars in fundraising.

The two Charlotte professional sports teams gave a combined $8,000. Atrium donated $30,000. And the Foundation for the Carolinas, a nonprofit community foundation, contributed more than anyone else, $212,500, to the Coalition for a Better 2050, according to campaign finance reports due Monday. They include money raised and spent between the start of the year and last week.

The coalition is behind the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance’s “Vote Yes for School Bonds” campaign, championing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ $2.5 billion bond package to build or replace 30 facilities.

Voters will decide on the record bond referendum Nov. 7.

A spokesperson for the CLT Alliance says its campaign includes parents, teachers and community leaders who want to strengthen the public schools.

“We are grateful to also have the strong backing of so many businesses, large and small, across this community, that are demonstrating their commitment to our public school system and investing in our children and the future,” the alliance said in an emailed statement.

The alliance has spent about $202,000 on the campaign, including paying for three well-known political consultants and thousands of dollars on flyers, radio spots and website development.

Jim Blaine, of the Raleigh-based firm The Differentiators, Morgan Jackson, of Raleigh-based firm Nexus Strategies, and Doug Wilson, founder of Alexander Wilson Consulting in Charlotte, were hired as the “best bipartisan advocacy team we can assemble to pass this school bond proposal,” Janet LaBar, president and CEO of the business alliance, told The Charlotte Observer in September.

Bond addresses old buildings

The bond referendum is the largest-ever request for a public school district in North Carolina and will address some of the highest-need buildings across the district, along with helping relieve overcrowding in some schools.

CMS officials say the bond, if approved, would likely require property tax increases in 2025, 2028 and 2029. Those increases of 1 cent per $100 in valuation each will help pay for debt associated with the package.

Those against the bond, including members of the African American Faith Alliance and African American Clergy Coalition in Charlotte, say recent Mecklenburg property revaluations resulted in tax hikes that disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities in the crescent of lower-income communities in the north, east and west of the city. They say the bond will add additional taxes.

But proponents of the bond believe it’s a must to help fix aging buildings in CMS.

Wilson, whose group has been paid $10,000, says “by voting yes for the bonds, our children will have access to state-of-the art classrooms which will set them on the path of learning for the 21st century.”

Blaine’s group has been paid $100,509, and Jackson’s Nexus Strategies has received about $38,334.

More money raised

The Coalition for a Better 2050 campaign’s $484,000 raised so far is about $110,000 more than the last CMS referendum in 2017. Then, the Vote Yes for Bonds campaign raised $370,075 before Election Day. It entered the final days of the election with $194,656 still available to spend.

Besides sports teams, Atrium and the Foundation for the Carolinas, the “Vote Yes” campaign secured donations from real estate groups, including $25,000 from the Canopy Realtor Association and $50,000 from the North Carolina Association of Realtors. Lowe’s contributed $20,000, Honeywell gave $15,000, Ally Financial gave $10,000 and Coca Cola Consolidated $10,000, according to financial reports.

The contributions also include:

Allen Tate Real Estate LLC for $2,500; Barings for $10,000; Brighthouse Financial for $5,000; Brownstone Construction Group for $3,500; CPI Security Systems for $5,000; DYSYS Signature Consultants for $5,000; LaBella Associates for $2,500; Martin Marietta Political Contributions Committee for $7,500; Moore & Van Allen for $5,000; National Gypsum for $10,000; Northwood Office LLC for $5,000; Pappas Properties for $7,500; Truist for $10,000; and Edward Weisiger for $25,000.

The campaign still has $413,704 to spend, which includes money left over from previous referendums.

The 2017 campaign spent all but $63,573 by the end of the election, according to campaign finance documents.

For the group behind the Vote No on School Bonds campaign, there is no record of any filed reports, which were due Monday, according to Mecklenburg County Elections Director Michael Dickerson. Dickerson told the Observer all referendum committees must file an Organizational Report and appoint a treasurer.

The African American Clergy Coalition has sponsored signs around Mecklenburg County and literature, asking people to vote no.

Dickerson says as of Monday, “we do not have anything from the African American Clergy Coalition.” Dickerson says someone could file a complaint with the State Board, and the state board would investigate complaints.

No one from the African American Clergy Coalition could be reached for comment via email and text.