CORNELIUS – Perhaps the issue that separates school board candidates Rhonda Lennon and Christine Mast the most is how to approach the $290 million bond referendum on the November election ballot.

Lennon, who is seeking her second term on the school board, supports the bond, but Mast told a crowd Oct. 1 at Cornelius Town Hall that it may be better to delay the vote and reconsider which projects to pay for.

“I think if we could just delay this bond vote to not only pair it with trying to figure out a better strategic plan to know what our building plans should be, we could take care of our teachers in the meantime,” Mast said. “Even if we do vote yes on this bond, not a dime of money is going to be released until at least July 1 of next summer.”

The $290 million bond proposal includes 17 projects across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Mast doesn’t have a problem issuing bonds for projects that are necessary and fair, but she expressed concern that only three bond projects affected District 1, a territory that spans Mountain Island Lake to Davidson.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools worked very closely with county staff to ensure bond projects stayed within the current debt service limits, Lennon said.

“As a fiscal conservative, I wouldn’t have support the bond unless it didn’t follow the financing guidelines set forth by the county finance director,” Lennon said. “There are still outstanding needs, but in times we are tight fiscally, we need to make sure we follow the guidelines and stay within the budget so that we don’t have to have any impact on property taxes in the future.”

Many of Mast’s points concerning the bond referendum mirror a position paper released Sept. 30 by the Strategic Partners for Accountability and Reform of Key Educational Performances.

The paper states the bond package doesn’t relieve overcrowding at District 1 elementary schools, noting that the J.M. Alexander Middle replacement would only net three more classrooms than what it has now.

“When you look at our elementary schools, you can see trailers at almost every one,” Mast said. “It’s just not making much sense that when we have overcrowded elementaries coming in that a three-net classroom increase would be enough to handle that kind of impact.”

Lennon countered that J.M Alexander is getting more than three classrooms.

“We are getting a new building to replace a 60-year-old school that is dark, dingy and is not meeting the needs of the students,” Lennon said, noting it’s not economically feasible to renovate J.M. Alexander when the cost to renovate is upwards of 90 percent of the cost of replacing the school.

Another bond project designed to ease overcrowding in the Lake Norman area involves converting Davidson Elementary into a K-8 school.

The position paper also takes issue with the length of time District 1 must wait for the projects. The J.M. Alexander replacement is four years away, while converting Davidson Elementary into a K-8 school and adding a career-and-technical institute to North Mecklenburg High could take six years.

“There’s so many points in there that really resonated with me, especially the cost of living adjustments for the teachers,” Mast said of the position paper. She told the crowd that she felt teacher pay was more important than brick-and-mortar issues right now.

Lennon clarified that paying for buildings and teachers come from two separate funding streams. She said teacher salaries are her top priority and something she’s spent most of her time lobbying state legislators for in her first term. She also would also to see the restoration of teacher assistant positions.

The candidate forum, hosted by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, provided Cornelius voters a chance to get to know the candidates. Lennon and Mast are expected to participate in other chamber-sponsored forums this month in Davidson and Huntersville.

Lennon, who has served a term on the school board, took pride in hiring National Superintendent of the Year Heath Morrison, as well as spearheading the effort to save middle school sports.

“But the thing I’m really most proud of is the collaborative work I’ve done with local, state and federal leaders to take CMS from a good school system to a great one.”

Lennon would like to see more programs to reach students across the spectrum, from the academically challenged to “high-flyers.” She also would also like to continue lobbying local and state legislators in regards to teacher pay and over-testing students.

Mast, a certified public accountant with nearly 20 years of experience, said electing her to the board would ensure better financial oversight of a district operating budget that exceeds more than $1 billion.

She also expressed concerns about Morrison’s strategic plan for the district. She doesn’t think school leadership teams were consulted or school improvement plans were incorporated enough into the plan. She also sees the need for more transparency and communication across the district.