Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is entrusted to educate more than 147,000 children in Mecklenburg County. It’s a task we take very seriously and one in which we dedicate ourselves to every moment of time availed to us. The secret to any successful effort is ensuring that talented employees are not only hired, but retained and placed in proper positions to ensure organizational success. To that end, we must strive to pay our employees competitively compared to our colleagues in other government agencies. Unfortunately, recent media reports have portrayed CMS as excessively compensating executive staff. When examining the actual compensation of other area government employees, however, this is simply not true.
According to the Charlotte Observer’s salary databases, CMS has 19,294 employees while Mecklenburg County employs 5,555. Although CMS’s workforce is almost 4 times larger than Mecklenburg County’s, Mecklenburg County has 183 employees making more than $100,000 per year (a little over 3 percent of its workforce), while only 111 CMS employees make over $100,000 per year (about half of 1 percent of its workforce). To put it another way, CMS would have to increase the pay of 524 employees to match the pay rate of the County.
The total compensation of the 25 highest-paid employees at Mecklenburg County is almost $1,000,000 more than their counterparts at CMS. Further, as compared to CMS, Mecklenburg County has eight times more employees making more than $200,000 per year. This is especially notable given that CMS’s superintendent is the only CMS employee making that amount, and he still makes 7 percent less than the Mecklenburg County manager.
One popular criticism over the past week has been the new CMS chief of staff’s compensation. Commissioner Jim Puckett even took to social media blasting CMS for paying its chief of staff only $4,000 less than the U.S. president pays his chief of staff. That criticism is curious since the County pays its chief of staff $35,208.29 more than the U.S. president’s chief of staff. Using that logic, one can assume that being chief of staff for Mecklenburg County is more critical than running the country.
CMS is a complex organization with more than 19,000 employees responsible for transporting, feeding and educating some 147,000 students in 168 schools across the county. It is a $1.4 billion organization with all the challenges and structural concerns that other billion-dollar companies face every day. Contrary to political and media commentary, CMS has been and continues to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money – not because CMS says so, but because CMS’s legally required yearly audit proves it. Although CMS has its shortcomings, it is perennially lauded as one of the nation’s top school districts.
Maybe if the media and our political leaders spent as much time reporting these facts as they do scoring cheap political points and selling advertisements by sensationalizing and misrepresenting CMS’s operations, this great community would finally get a true view of our collective community jewel that is CMS.
McCray is chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.