Superintendent Heath Morrison presented a budget plan Tuesday that asks Mecklenburg County for an additional $28.5 million, with much of the money going to boost technology and add magnets and other educational options around the county.
His plan calls for $365.9 million from the county, an 8 percent increase over the current year. If granted, the request would bring Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to pre-recession levels of county spending, although enrollment has also kept growing since the county started making cuts in 2009.
The increase could be a tough sell in a year when commissioners have said they may have to make cuts.
What we owe our community is our best thinking about where we are and where we need to be, Morrison said before Tuesdays school board meeting. If we need to reprioritize, we will reprioritize. Im not the kind of person who says, We need this or else.
Mecklenburg County Commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham expressed doubts that the board could come up with the money.
We went over with them what our situation was, and they are aware of what were facing, Cotham said. They knew were in a difficult situation. But we as a board will look at everything and well evaluate everything. These are hard times for everybody.
The total CMS budget plan tops $1.2 billion, including state and federal money. Its up about $34 million over the current year, a 2.8 percent increase.
CMS spending shapes virtually every facet of life in the county. The district educates more than 141,000 students and expects about 3,000 more next year. With a work force of more than 18,000, it is one of the largest employers in the county and state. The quality of schools affects job recruitment and home values.
For Morrison, who started in July, this plan is his first chance to put a price tag on a vision he has been hashing out in a steady stream of public forums and small-group meetings. He is seeking almost $20 million for initiatives designed to help young students learn to read, prepare teachers and classrooms for digital education, increase academic options, improve instruction and strengthen community partnerships.
The budget also includes $17.5 million in increased county spending to cover rising costs, enrollment growth and opening of new schools. It eliminates about $9 million in current county spending to offset some of the new requests.
Much remains uncertain. Legislators, who provide more than half the budget, havent unveiled their plans. CMS knows to expect federal cuts, as stimulus money runs out and the sequestration kicks in, but officials dont know how much that will be. County leaders are grappling with the cost of correcting an erroneous 2011 revaluation, which affects the revenue available from property taxes.
Morrisons plan assumes employees will get the 1 percent raise included in the governors budget plan, which requires $2.2 million to match that raise for county-paid employees. But Morrison said CMS leaders will continue to lobby legislators to approve a larger raise.
Morrison said some of his proposals have come from the public. For instance, he wants to launch a Montessori magnet at Long Creek Elementary in Huntersville in 2014, which the parents have been clamoring for, and offer the districts first Montessori high school magnet at Derita school. He said he hopes to create a Montessori magnet in the southern suburbs the following year.
His plan also calls for CMS to pay all fees for students to take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Career-Technical exams, something he said task forces on gifted students and college-career readiness have endorsed.
At least one group will be disappointed. Several parents and faculty members have urged him to change bus schedules and/or school hours and have spent months working with CMS staff to craft options. But Morrison said those proved too expensive and/or required too much upheaval to push forward this year.
Board members voiced excitement about the new plans, especially the proposed magnets, and frustration with the small raises. Some said they want to formally ask state lawmakers for 3 percent raises and plan to spend an additional $4.4 million in county money to provide that raise for county-paid staff, even if that means cutting from other areas.
We cant just take a year off from trying to boost pay for teachers and other employees, Eric Davis said.
Several members said they need to prepare for a smaller budget, including the possibility of no increase from the county.
This is Plan A, the best-case scenario, Rhonda Lennon said. We might need to be thinking about Plan B.
CMS will hold two community meetings and a public hearing later this month before the school board votes May 14. The plan it approves will go to commissioners, who are scheduled to adopt their budget in June.
Staff writer David Perlmutt contributed.
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