Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools families, employees and taxpayers will get their first hint Friday at the kind of budget cuts that are expected to hit schools in 2009-10.
At a news conference Wednesday, Superintendent Peter Gorman emphasized a consultant's report saying the district must do more for low-performing, high-poverty schools and can't expect to find significant savings by cutting central administration. He said he'll make a first round of suggested cuts at a special board meeting Friday.
“Friday is the most important board meeting we're going to have this year,” he said.
Friday's proposals will be far from final. The board, which includes two new members, will spend weeks studying Gorman's plans before voting this spring on a budget to take to the county. County commissioners and state legislators will decide how much CMS gets.
But with the recession crashing down on North Carolina, both bodies have asked CMS to plan for multimillion-dollar cuts.
The school district, with a payroll of more than 19,000, is one of Mecklenburg's largest employers. So far, Gorman has avoided layoffs with hiring freezes and elimination of vacant jobs. But talk about more dramatic cuts has employees nervous and parents worried about the possibility of losing programs that benefit their children.
The report from Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based nonprofit that has spent four months studying CMS, does not recommend cuts or tell officials how to divvy up its budget. It offers some suggestions that would not be expensive, such as giving principals more leeway to spend money efficiently and helping teachers make better use of their time.
But it also gives a vote of confidence to some costly strategies that Gorman is using, such as providing big pay bumps to recruit top principals and teachers into weak schools. Gorman told the board Tuesday he believes he'll need to expand such efforts to strengthen all the schools that need help.
Meanwhile, the board is still trying to figure out how to measure success. Tuesday night members got a 100-page “equity report” designed to gauge whether high-poverty schools are getting the same resources as the district's top performers. The 2009 report says those schools are doing fine on technology, student-teacher ratios and course offerings, but are lagging in teacher experience and credentials.
The report, required by school board policy, rates each school on six measures of teacher experience and qualifications, such as full licensure, advanced degrees and National Board Certification. But several board members and Gorman say those standards don't gauge whether any school has a strong faculty. CMS sends dozens of Teach For America cadets and visiting foreign teachers into high-poverty schools; many are successful but lack experience and credentials, Gorman says.
Some board members say it's wasteful to keep producing reports that are shrugged off.
“When is the board going to make the policy go away or put some teeth in it?” member Ken Gjertsen asked.