CMS to announce cuts next month

Already handed less local money than he wanted and facing the threat of runaway gasoline prices next year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman said Wednesday he'll announce cuts in July to cover any deficits.

The state legislature, which provides about 60 percent of CMS's budget, hasn't voted on a 2008-09 plan yet. On Monday, state education officials warned that a budget approved by a senate committee could force the state to pull $40 million to $60 million out of local school spending to cover the soaring cost of diesel fuel. That would translate to about a $5 million cut in state money for CMS classrooms, Gorman said.

The N.C. Senate tentatively adopted a budget Wednesday that provides only a fourth as much for bus fuel as the House plan, $11 million vs. $45 million, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. A final vote is expected today, and the two chambers are expected to work out a compromise by July 1.

Tuesday, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted unanimously to give CMS $351 million next year – up $10 million over this year, but about $18 million short of what the district wanted. Gorman has said he needed the full amount to cover rising costs, enrollment growth and the opening of new schools.

At Wednesday's news briefing, Gorman said CMS will have to eliminate some jobs, though it's not clear whether that would require layoffs or just reassignments. With more than 19,000 workers, CMS is one of Mecklenburg's largest employers.

“There is no way for us to come up with these amount of cuts without at least some people being bumped from their job,” Gorman said. “You can't deal with a dollar amount that big and say it won't impact people.”

Gorman also hinted that plans to clone the Performance Learning Center, a small alternative high school for students who struggle in larger settings, will be scrapped. His original budget included $625,255 for the new PLC, and he frequently referred to opening seven new schools in August.

But in a recent radio interview, Gorman talked about opening six schools. Asked Wednesday if that meant the second PLC was out, Gorman said, “I'm not ready to make an announcement about that. But I spoke accurately on the radio.”

CMS isn't the only district facing a pinch. The state covers most of the cost of N.C. public schools, including running the buses. A statement from N.C. Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee and State Superintendent June Atkinson said the budget plan sent to the senate would leave “a major hole” in school spending by failing to cover fuel costs. They warned that the plan also shortchanges teacher bonuses based on test-score growth and improvement efforts for low-performing schools.

Earlier this week, Wake County commissioners voted to give their school district $319 million – about $36 million less than Wake County Schools sought and $32 million less than CMS got. Wake has more K-12 students than CMS, though CMS has more prekindergarten students whose education depends on county money.

In addition, Wake's commissioners withheld $3 million of the $319 million, saying the schools will get it only if 2008-09 enrollment growth meets projections. In 2007-08, both Wake and CMS fell short of enrollment projections. Some Mecklenburg commissioners talked about taking back money, but the majority rejected that idea.