Good news for CMS: Raises for all. Bad news: Fewer new counselors, social workers

Bruns Academy fifth-grade teacher Marie Calabro is already teaching students at one of the four CMS schools that opened in July.
Bruns Academy fifth-grade teacher Marie Calabro is already teaching students at one of the four CMS schools that opened in July.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday celebrated a budget that includes raises for its more than 19,000 employees. But they were forced to scale back a plan to add school counselors and social workers.

The board unanimously approved a $1.4 billion budget driven largely by decisions from state legislators and county commissioners. For instance, state lawmakers set the raises that will shape paychecks for one of the region’s largest employers:

▪ Raises averaging 3.3 percent for teachers, with the actual amount depending on experience. The state also expanded its performance bonuses for teachers in some tested subjects and added a retention bonus for highly experienced teachers.

▪ Seven percent raises for principals and assistant principals, who lose their state longevity pay as part of the state’s budget vote. In addition, principals will be eligible for new bonuses based on student gains on test scores.

▪ Raises of 3 percent or $1,000 a year, whichever is higher, for most other employees. Bus drivers will get a $1,500 raise, which Vice Chair Elyse Dashew said may help fill an urgent need as CMS expands its transportation program.

“We’ve got a lot of buses with a lot of kids that need good, responsible drivers,” Dashew said.

The board approved a budget plan in April, working with then-Superintendent Ann Clark and her staff to estimate what the state might provide and make a pitch for county dollars.

CMS asked for $440.5 million from Mecklenburg County commissioners, a $27 million increase over the previous year. Clark said most of the increase was needed to cover rising costs and growing enrollment. The only new initiative she touted was $4.5 million to hire 42 more counselors, 12 social workers and six psychologists – jobs she and the board said are needed to support teachers in dealing with students’ academic and personal needs.

The county, which provides just under one-third of the district’s annual budget, instead approved a $15 million increase. It fell to Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who took over in July, to craft a final budget.

There was only money to hire six new counselors and six social workers, even after trimming $1 million from central offices by cutting supplies, materials and overtime, said Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said she was “very disappointed” by the reduction, noting the urgency of mental health needs for many students.

“We as a board and as a community need to continue to beat the drum with this,” Ellis-Stewart said. “We have some really significant challenges that our students are coming to school with.”

The board also approved a $25 increase in athletic participation fees, to $125 for high school sports and $75 for middle schools. Wilcox said that will raise about $250,000, which is needed to cover coaching stipends and rising costs for officials, security and uniforms.

The district anticipated almost $829 million from the state, which provides almost 60 percent of the district’s operating cash. The final tally was about $9 million higher, with the increase coming mostly from salaries and benefits, Shirley said.

Wilcox didn’t make any major changes in the plan or add any new initiatives. He said he has met with County Manager Dena Diorio to talk about budget planning for coming years.

“While we weren’t funded fully this year, I think we have laid the groundwork to be fully funded in future years,” he said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms