Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh will privately poll Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members today on whether they want to shift money from employee raises to eliminate the unpopular late “bell schedule” for elementary and middle schools.
Based on discussion at Wednesday’s budget meeting, the answer appears to be no. After studying options that involve big costs and/or significant hassles for families across the county, most members said they can’t justify spending money on busing rather than staff. Eliminating the 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. schedule at 32 elementary and middle schools would require hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional busing expenses, according to options presented Wednesday.
“We’re looking at a change in the bell schedule or a pay increase for our employees,” said Joyce Waddell.
Member Rhonda Lennon disagreed, saying officials should be able to find money for raises and a better bell schedule in a $1.2 billion budget. “To pit bell schedules against teacher raises is a slap in the face to our teachers and our families,” she said.
Parents and teachers at schools with the late schedules have emailed and petitioned the board, saying kids get stuck in rush-hour traffic and lose time for homework, after-school activities and family.
The board took no formal vote or straw poll, but Hattabaugh said he needs to know what the majority wants so he can prepare a budget plan for the April 10 vote. “I will be calling and polling you,” he said.
One option that wouldn’t cost anything would be to start and dismiss every school 15 minutes earlier next year. Hattabaugh predicted that would be highly unpopular at high schools, which would have to start at 7 a.m.
Another no-cost option would involve redoing bus schedules without adding buses, so that some or all of the 32 schools would be out by 4 p.m. Transportation Director Carol Stamper said that would result in dozens of buses routinely arriving late to school.
Plans that add buses to avoid 4:15 dismissals would add from just under $1 million to $5.6 million to the 2012-13 budget, depending on the number of schools with new schedules. That plan also would require CMS to revise hours that already have been announced at about 30 additional schools.
No one has proposed eliminating the seven-hour day for elementary school students that was created this year, up from six hours and 15 minutes last year. Board member Tom Tate said he wants to see evidence on whether the longer day is beneficial to students.
In reality, the board may not get enough money for raises even without juggling school hours. Hattabaugh’s plan asks Mecklenburg County commissioners for $355.9 million, a $27.5 million increase over this year. Most of that would go toward 3 percent raises for all employees and expenses CMS can’t avoid, such as rising utility and benefit costs.
If the county gives CMS no increase, there would be only enough for a 0.4 percent raise, even after sacrificing all new initiatives, including 62 additional high school teachers to reduce class sizes, according to a plan Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley outlined today.
Board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart urged her colleagues to keep pushing the message that CMS needs more money to improve education. “It’s not just CMS with its hand out again,” she said, “but CMS asking for an investment that will pay dividends.”