Money for teacher raises, school safety will be in CMS budget plan, officials say

Administrators try to recruit a teacher at a 2017 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools job fair.
Administrators try to recruit a teacher at a 2017 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools job fair. Observer file photo

Expect to see a request for increased teacher compensation when Superintendent Clayton Wilcox presents his first budget plan to the school board tonight, a top official said.

The latest round of national test scores highlight the need to make sure all students have access to top teachers and rigorous classes, Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes said this week. The "nation's report card" scores show Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools performing well compared with most other urban districts across America, but math and reading proficiency remains low for many black, Hispanic and low-income students.

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"There's no replacement for a highly effective teacher in each classroom," Barnes said. "If compensation is a barrier to that, we want to remove that barrier."

Barnes declined to be more specific before his boss releases details. CMS could ask the county for money to increase the local supplement that goes to all teachers. Or Wilcox could propose a targeted raise or bonus program to help attract faculty to the schools that have special challenges.

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For Wilcox, who became superintendent in July, the 2018-19 budget he'll present at today's board meeting is his first chance to outline his spending priorities and show the community his vision. The meeting, which airs live online and on CMS-TV Channel 3, starts at 6 p.m.

Here are five other highlights that affect students, employees and taxpayers:

School safety

Wilcox has been meeting with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney and CMS staff since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HIgh to talk about improving school safety.

The budget will include money to add security staff and make buildings safer, Chief Communication Officer Tracy Russ said at a town hall on school safety Tuesday. Like Barnes, he said he couldn't be specific until Wilcox presents the plan.

Maddie Syfert, a Myers Park High senior who helped organize Charlotte's recent March For Our Lives, asked Russ how CMS can secure a campus like hers, with several buildings on a rolling campus in the heart of Charlotte. "Is it going to be a fence?" she asked. "Is it going to be a wall?"

Five years ago, CMS embarked on a $19 million plan to fortify schools after the shooting at Sandy Hook. Now Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who has held the top job less than a year, is reviewing everything from physical security to safety protocol

Russ acknowledged there's no way CMS can close off the many schools that occupy multiple buildings and/or mobile classrooms. That's why security measures such as cameras and enhanced training for dealing with attacks are part of the plan, he said.

"It's going to be impossible to fence and control and lock our way to safe campuses," he said.

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Emotional support

Board members and top administrators all say they'll seek money to hire more school psychologists, social workers and counselors. They say those jobs — which were cut during the recession — are vital not only to heading off violence and dealing with potentially suicidal students, but to helping students and families overcome obstacles to learning.

Last spring then-Superintendent Ann Clark and the board sought $4.5 million in county money to hire 60 additional support staff. But that was pared to 12 when the county didn't cover the full CMS request.

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Programs eliminated?

Since Wilcox arrived in Charlotte he's been saying that CMS has a tendency to launch new programs and keep them around even if they're not effective. The budget will be a chance for him to explain what he's willing to cut and how much money it frees up.

How much county money?

The state provides roughly 60 percent of the $1.4 billion CMS operating budget. But the focus always falls on the 30 percent or so that falls under local control.

Mecklenburg County commissioners say education is their top priority, but they're generally reluctant to raise property taxes or cut other county programs to provide the full amount CMS asks for. That leads to an annual tussle in which CMS supporters tout the urgency of the district's needs while commissioners question whether CMS is spending its money wisely.

In 2017 CMS asked for $440.5 million from the county, a $27 million increase over the previous year, but got $428.7 million, an increase of about $15 million.

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