Education

CMS budget plan: Bulletproof doors, local teacher raises and $40M hike from the county

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

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox wants an additional $40 million from Mecklenburg County to cover local teacher raises, bulletproof school doors and an array of other measures to boost learning and safety in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The $1.5 billion budget he presented Wednesday to the school board calls for $468.5 million in county money, which is always the most hotly contested part of the CMS spending plan. The next step for Wilcox, who became superintendent in July, is to see whether he can get support from the school board, the community — and ultimately the county commissioners who control the checkbook.

"I think it reflects what we actually need and I think it reflects what's going on in the community," Wilcox said before the meeting, noting that business and civic leaders have identified public education as a key to creating paths out of poverty.

Almost 60 percent of the CMS budget comes from the state, which has already approved 2018-19 teacher raises averaging 7 percent. Wilcox wants $6.9 million to add a local raise on top of that, boosting the paychecks of more than 9,000 teachers.

CMS already adds 15 to 19 percent to teachers' state pay, depending on the level of experience and credentials. The new spending would increase that local supplement by 7 percent. For instance, a CMS teacher with 10 years' experience and a bachelor's degree now earns $40,550 from the state and a $6,091 local supplement. The proposed local increase would boost that supplement to $6,517.

In making his case that the local raise isn't extravagant, Wilcox showed a slide of a fast-food cheeseburger and noted that the increase comes to $1.98 per teacher workday.

School safety

Wilcox also elaborated on his previously announced plan to seek just over $9 million to fortify schools against attack. He said that will include bulletproof doors, more locks and fences, more cameras with better monitoring systems and a film that can be added to school windows to prevent them from shattering when shot at.

Bringing all 176 schools up to ideal safety standards would cost "in excess of $100 million," Wilcox said. He said he'll decide which schools get which improvements after the county approves a budget and he knows how much he has to work with.

The budget also seeks $624,000 to hire five more CMS police officers, including one who will lead active shooter training, as well as two locksmiths and two electronics specialists to upgrade security.

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Emotional support

Wilcox is seeking $4.4 million to hire an additional 33 elementary school counselors, 17 school social workers and 10 school psychologists.

He and board members 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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More teachers, custodians

The budget plan also includes $2.4 million to hire 57 more custodians and three pest control specialists. The added staff will cover three more schools opening in August and relieve custodians who are currently stretched too thin, Wilcox said.

He's also seeking $1.5 million from the county to hire 20 more teachers to help immigrant students who are learning English.

CMS has almost 20,000 English learner students this year, and the numbers are growing.

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In addition, CMS expects to get 90 more arts, PE and world language teachers paid for by the state next year. It's part of the compromise state legislators approved after school districts objected that a class-size cap could force many schools to eliminate such teachers.

Better opportunity for all

Wilcox's plan also includes several items he says will help CMS meet its goal of providing a high-quality education for all students, including the African-American, Hispanic and low-income students who trail on most measures of success.

For instance, he wants $3.8 million for a digital literacy program that would provide individualized and culturally relevant material for all students in grades 4-12. He's also seeking $500,000 to train 800 more educators in cultural competency, $456,000 to expand the AVID college-readiness program and $300,000 to add Naviance career and college counseling software at all high schools.

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What's next

Those new initiatives don't account for the full increase Wilcox is seeking. Much of that is driven by rising costs, including salaries and benefits. CMS also expects to pass $53 million in county money to charter schools, based on the number of Mecklenburg students who choose the independent public schools.

There will be a series of public meetings on Wilcox's plan, including a formal public hearing April 24. It will go to the school board for a vote May 8, then run through the county budget process before a June vote by county commissioners.

CMS launched a website, ourkidsneedus.org, to provide budget information.

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
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