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Morrison: CMS will make case for $28.5 million hike

Superintendent Heath Morrison said Wednesday he appreciates the county manager’s proposal to give Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a $21.3 million increase but said he and board members will press for a $28.5 million bump at a joint session Thursday.

Mecklenburg County commissioners and the CMS board will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday in Room 267 of the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St., to talk about the 2013-14 budget. The session is open to the public.

“We have a chance to explain why we feel strongly about the full amount,” Morrison said. His budget proposal, which the school board approved unanimously, asks the county for $366 million, up $28.5 million over the current year.

Morrison and board members have acknowledged all along that they’ll probably have to revise the budget, depending on decisions from county commissioners, state legislators and the federal government. A process that’s full of uncertainty took another twist when county commissioners fired County Manager Harry Jones, whom Morrison had been working with, two weeks before the county budget presentation.

Interim County Manager Bobbie Shields said he worked from Jones’ plan but made some revisions. His proposal calls for a 2.5 cent tax hike to pay for the rising cost of services and to offset a flawed 2011 property revaluation.

Morrison found plenty to celebrate after Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting. He noted that commissioners approved $19 million for security cameras, buzz-in entry systems and other security measures for schools. That spending is separate from the budget, which commissioners will vote on in June.

Shields’ budget plan also includes about $1 million to add 11 school nurses. Those nurses report to the Health Department, not CMS, but Morrison called them “a critical need” for students.

Morrison and CMS board Chairwoman Mary McCray praised Shields’ quick effort to build a relationship with CMS while plunging into a new challenge. McCray, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said Shields emphasized that relationship to commissioners. “I was encouraged by his statement,” she said.

The $366 million request from CMS includes millions to cover rising costs and anticipated enrollment growth, as well as $20 million in new initiatives such as technology, new magnet schools, an expanded partnership program and additional reading help for young students.

Morrison said it’s too early to start talking about potential cuts. Commissioners could revise Shields’ plan, and decisions by state lawmakers could influence CMS’ spending of county money.

“It’s important tomorrow that we advocate for what we need,” Morrison said.

County commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. May 30 at the Government Center.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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