Mecklenburg County budget proposal deletes ‘equity’ items in CMS budget

CMS board debates talk and action on equity

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members debate the value of creating a citizen equity panel.
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members debate the value of creating a citizen equity panel.

With a $20 million difference between the 2019-20 operating budget that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools sought and what Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio recommended, CMS and county officials met for a polite 90-minute budget discussion Thursday.

CMS has asked the county for an additional $70 million for next year, a 15% increase from the previous year. Diorio countered with a recommended $50 million, or 10%, in additional spending.

County commissioners are expected to adopt their budget next month, setting the stage for Thursday’s meeting. Mecklenburg will supply 33% of CMS’ $1.6 billion operating budget for 2019-20, with 58% coming from the state.

Diorio announced a nearly $2 billion budget plan last week that would raise taxes for most property owners.

The $534 million it includes for CMS matches many of the district’s priorities. Those include money to increase local supplements to make the district’s teachers the highest paid in the state, give pay raises to hourly workers, and hire more than 50 more school social workers, psychologists and counselors. Diorio also budgeted $4.6 million in capital funds for school security improvements.

The largest of the amounts snipped from the CMS request are grouped under Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s focus on equity for all students regardless of their race or economic status.

Among the items deleted included $4.2 million for expanded arts access, such as trips to hear orchestras or view ballets that students from low-income homes might never otherwise be exposed to. A $3.7 million unfunded item would have offered cultural proficiency training for staff and students.

The manager’s budget also sliced $2.7 million for additional social workers and counselors, part of a broad category of increased student support. Wilcox had proposed spending the money to post 25 law-enforcement officers, called school resource officers, in elementary schools but the CMS board voted to spend the money on social support.

Diorio also didn’t include $2.6 million in market-based pay adjustments for certain CMS staff or $1.8 million to increase weekly work hours of teacher assistants.

If those deletions stand, Wilcox said after the meeting, CMS may look within its own budget to fund them if its board agrees.

“Central to everything we’re trying to do is around curriculum, and trying to re-establish and rededicate a guaranteed, viable curriculum across the county,” Wilcox said. “Just making sure that all kids can see themselves in the curriculum, that’s really important to us.

“Also this idea of building more competent culturally responsive kids, that’s really a heartache for us because we see it every day, that kids don’t know how to moderate and mediate the challenges that they face, so those (support) resources are important to us.”