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A budget that reflects a community’s wants and needs

By Heath Morrison
Special to the Observer

As we move through our budget process this year, I wanted to share with the community the strategy behind our proposed operating budget, our capital budget and how we determined it. This strategy reflects what I have learned since arriving in Charlotte and public input gathered about what our community wants and needs. It has been my privilege to speak with parents, citizens, CMS employees, students and public servants. I have been honored and humbled by the passion for education and the broad-based concern for children.

Parents want us to continue our focus on safety, and they want a wider choice of schools and programs. Teachers and support staff want the tools, training and technology to meet students’ diverse needs. Citizens want effective schools that maximize precious resources and produce college- and career-ready graduates.

In many ways, the budget for our public schools is like the budget a family makes. Income is estimated, essential costs are assessed and priorities are assigned to whatever discretionary money remains after the bills are paid.

On April 9, we presented our proposed operating budget to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. A few weeks earlier, we presented a 10-year master facilities plan, and we will present a Three-Year Capital Improvement Plan on Monday.

We will use both budgets intentionally to achieve transformative change. The operating budget sets out our initiatives and programs for the coming year. The capital budget takes a multi-year horizon, looking at large-scale renovations, replacements and new buildings.

Our proposed operating budget for 2013-2014 is 2.8 percent more than last year’s budget – but per-pupil spending remains below the level of 2009. Although the economy shows signs of improvement, financial uncertainty remains this year. We have set top priorities of expanding the choice that we offer our families and significantly improving access to and use of technology through infrastructure and training.

We also want to offer an extended K-3 literacy initiative to give students a strong start and strengthen our Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate and Career and Technical Education offerings and participation in middle and high schools.

The governor’s proposed budget includes a one percent raise for state-funded employees. Our budget extends that raise to all employees, local- and state-funded, because we believe that all employees play a key role in district progress.

Our strategy supports the goal of helping children succeed in school from the earliest years and providing plenty of opportunities for them in high school. We want to maximize the partnerships we have with houses of worship, organizations and others by placing some partnership coordinators in elementary and middle schools. We are also strengthening partnerships with area colleges and universities.

Our proposed budget for 2013-2014 will help us better meet the needs of our students by enhancing the choices we offer them and offering broad access to the technology that has permeated our lives and our workplaces. By focusing on these needs, we will be able to educate every child, every day, for a better tomorrow.

Heath Morrison is superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
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