by Tori Hamby

CHARLOTTE – Their votes don’t officially count, but it’s likely that the almost 100,000 Mecklenburg County kids who cast votes in a mock election last week will still have their voices heard.

GenerationNation, a Charlotte-based youth civics organization, partnered with Kids Voting USA to offer kids in grades K-12 a chance to participate in 2012 mock election. Students cast votes on federal, state and local offices, as well as mock referendum questions submitted by real-life politicians and leaders for the first time in the event’s 20 years.

Ballots produced some interesting insight into the wishes and preferences of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ most important stakeholders – the students.

Three student referendums related to CMS appeared on the mock ballot, from the types of magnet and vocational programs they would like to see implemented to ways schools can improve learning.

CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison submitted the three questions to GenerationNation to gauge student preference. The City of Charlotte also solicited student opinions on a possible city-county merger, while Mecklenburg County asked students how they would spend theoretical extra money left over in a county budget.

More than a quarter of students – about 26 percent – said they would prefer another “leadership” magnet program, such as the Marie G. Davis Military and Global Leadership Academy in northeast Charlotte.

Museum, health and wellness, broadcasting and communications, teaching and residential – or boarding – themes followed with 20 percent, 19 percent, 17 percent, 12 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

Morrison, who began his job in July, has been vocal about adding and reorganizing the district’s magnet programs to allow CMS to compete with charter schools that continue to emerge throughout the region. The school board recently discussed taking steps to turn Charlotte’s Coulwood Middle School into a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-themed school.

Last month, he told a group of north Mecklenburg parents that his staff is “looking at a variety of options and looking at them (while considering) quality, choice and capital projects.”

Preferences for a new career or technical program were roughly split between culinary (25 percent), automotive (21 percent), construction (20 percent) and cosmetology (20 percent) programs.

A representative from GenerationNation could not be reached for comment.