Mecklenburg County commissioners aren't likely to approve $25 million to $30 million for across-the-board raises at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, commissioners' Chairman Harold Cogdell said in a letter to the CMS board.
Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh unveiled the proposal for 3 percent raises at a Jan. 10 school board session, saying teachers and others in the workforce of more than 18,000 have gone too long without a pay hike. The state legislature normally sets teacher raises, with CMS matching those raises for county-paid employees. But for the past three years, the state has given no raises.
Cogdell said Hattabaugh's plan would require a 3-cent tax hike or slashing major services, such as parks, libraries or mental health services.
"I will not support that nor do I believe (there) are the votes on the BOCC to support a tax rate increase necessary to fund such a request," he wrote in a letter to CMS board Chairwoman Ericka Ellis-Stewart, copied to both boards, Hattabaugh, County Manager Harry Jones and the Observer.
Ellis-Stewart said Friday she'll continue talking to county leaders about the need for money: "This community has a responsibility to invest in education. I hope that the commissioners will look clearly at the needs of the district."
Cogdell's letter said that in the long run he'd be more inclined to support extra money if CMS creates a successful performance-pay plan that rewards teachers who make a difference with disadvantaged students and gets rid of low-performing educators. The current proposal "is symbolic of the business as usual organizational culture that has failed to yield results," he wrote.
Cogdell noted that he is speaking only for himself, not the nine-member Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. But Cogdell, a Democrat, was elected chairman on a 5-4 vote, supported by the board's four Republicans, who tend to be wary of big boosts in spending.
CMS administrators say the request for raises that are normally covered by the state would create an ongoing demand on the county budget. If the state were providing 3 percent raises, CMS would need about 30 percent of the $25 million to $30 million to provide a county match, officials say.
Budget negotiations always create friction between CMS officials seeking money for education and county officials who must balance the CMS request with the needs of other departments and concerns about the tax rate.
This year, Mecklenburg is covering about 28 percent of CMS' $1.2 billion operating budget (the state provides the largest share). Commissioners increased money for CMS by about $26 million this year, and some complained that CMS overplayed the threat of state budget cuts while seeking that boost.
The 2012-13 budget season features a new cast of leaders: Cogdell and Ellis-Stewart were both elected to lead their boards in December, and Peter Gorman resigned last summer after five years as CMS superintendent. In addition, Jones is being treated for cancer, though he met with Hattabaugh to talk about the budget Thursday, Cogdell said.
Cogdell said he wasn't pleased that CMS presented its plans in public meetings, complete with videos created by CMS staff to make their case for more money, instead of letting county officials know what was coming.
Cogdell's letter followed up on a Thursday meeting with Ellis-Stewart to talk about the budget. Although he and Ellis-Stewart are "not necessarily seeing eye to eye," Cogdell said he hopes the two boards will begin communicating better.
"I look forward to working with the county commissioners," Ellis-Stewart said. "I don't feel that we have to be adversarial."