CMS and CPCC make funding pleas to county commissioners

This much is known: A majority of Mecklenburg County commissioners believe Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees need to be paid more.

How much and how to pay for a significant raise is another issue.

That discussion began during and after CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison’s official request Monday to the Board of Commissioners for $403 million, $46.2 million, or 13 percent more, than what Mecklenburg currently funds.

The request for additional money would include nearly $27 million to provide a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for 18,500 CMS employees and $3.7 million to hire 40 new counselors, school psychologists and social workers to rebuild a support staff that was cut during the recession.

It is part of a $1.3 billion budget plan that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved last week. Mecklenburg provides 31 percent of the school district’s operating budget.

The commissioners’ discussion on teacher pay raises will begin in earnest when County Manager Dena Diorio unveils her recommended budget for 2014-2015 on May 29.

“Everybody believes we’ve got to pay teachers more, that we cannot continue on this course,” board Chairman Trevor Fuller, a Democrat, said after the meeting.“The issue is that once we take on this responsibility – that we believe is the state’s responsibility – it will be ongoing. That we can’t say next year and the year after that we’re not going to do this.

“But these are our teachers and our students. We’re going to have to get creative if we’re going to do this, on how we fund it.”

Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, a Republican, agreed with Fuller that teachers need more pay, but that the board must guard against setting a precedent on pay raises. He said he was concerned that the process had become contentious with teachers and parents packing into a commission meeting last month, expecting to speak on the budget when they couldn’t until June 11.

Morrison told commissioners that he recognizes he is asking them to do something that is “constitutionally” the state’s obligation. Yet he said in Raleigh he hears from lawmakers that counties “aren’t doing enough.”

After his presentation, he was optimistic about his request.

“I didn’t hear anybody say that our teachers in North Carolina and Charlotte-Mecklenburg are getting paid enough,” he said. “I heard concerns about setting a precedent for something they believe is the state’s responsibility. That’s fair. I heard concerns about funding the full budget because there are competing needs. That’s fair.

“But I was very positive overall that this was a priority.”

CPCC makes request

Meanwhile, Central Piedmont Community College officials had their turn, too, to make funding requests to the board, asking for $34.1 million for operating costs, about $3.2 million more that it received from the county last year.

The county’s part would represent about 16.3 percent of the college’s proposed $209 million operating budget – with 43.3 percent coming from grants and revenues generated by CPCC and 40.3 percent that the state gets from tuition.

Operating costs from the requested county funds would include $12.2 million for maintenance, $9.3 million for salary supplements and benefits, and $5.5 million for utilities. The additional $3.1 million would be used to make repairs and update technology at the school’s six campuses around Mecklenburg, CPCC President Tony Zeiss told commissioners.

Zeiss reminded commissioners that the school has delayed repairs and upgrades the last five years because of severe budget cuts during the recession. He said his college has experienced a five-year county funding shortfall of nearly $9.5 million.

Enrollment at the college increased 30 percent from 2006 to 2014 and is expected to rise 13 percent more by 2018, Zeiss said.

He said the state’s community colleges are 42nd in the country in faculty and staff pay and he wants that improved.