Education

State budget impasse keeps CMS employees in limbo before start of school

Gov. Roy Cooper will veto GOP-backed state budget

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.
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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.

As the battle in the legislature over a passing state budget continues, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees are among the ones feeling the consequences.

CMS staff, including teachers, were notified Wednesday morning that their scheduled raises would not take place until a state budget is passed. In an email to all staff obtained by the Observer, employees were told they would continue to be paid at the 2018-2019 levels and that no salary increases would be applied.

At a news conference during the CMS symposium — a back-to-school professional development conference for the district — Rob Ellyson, executive director of talent acquisition, said that the raises will be implemented as soon as the budget is approved in Raleigh.

“Since the state has not passed the budget, we will continue as normal with our funding,” Ellyson said. “And then as soon as the state passes the budget, then any step increases teachers are eligible for will occur.”

Teacher raises are not the only thing held up by the budget impasse. The district cannot implement a budget for the 2019-2020 school year until the state budget passes, which means plans to expand the number of social workers and other support staff remain on hold.

Cotrane Penn, executive director of student wellness and academic support, said that the district has numerous social workers “teed up,” having gone through interviews and been recommended to the district for hire.

“We’re just holding on that final version of the budget to be able to bring them on and onboard them in their school,” Penn said. “So we are ready as soon as the state is. But we can’t start quite yet with those new positions.”

The 44 new hires would bring the ratio of students to social workers to 1,500 to 1, down from 3,000 to 1 in 2017. Once fully staffed, the positions will cover Title I schools, homeless student services and other high-needs schools. The district also plans to add school counselors and school psychologists, bringing those student to staff ratios down to 350 to 1 for counselors and 1,600 to 1 for psychologists.

Still, Penn said the district is far behind where it should be. The recommended ratio of students to staff is 250 to 1 for counselors and social workers, and 700 to 1 for school psychologists, she said.

“We’re not anywhere near where the recommended ratios are quite yet,” Penn said. “We’ve got a ways to go but we’ve made tremendous progress over the last three years.”

To minimize the number of openings at the beginning of the year, Ellyson said, the district began recruiting aggressively much earlier this year, in March. The district has made 4,200 hires for this year, which include new staff members as well as internal movement and renewals. Ellyson said that 99% of teaching positions are filled or in the late stages of pre-hiring onboarding.

As of Wednesday, there are 80 teaching positions that remain unfilled, though Ellyson said that number would likely change over the next few days. The areas that are the hardest to fill, he said, include exceptional children, elementary, secondary math and science, and career and technical education.

Since May, the district has hired 50 bus drivers, but it still has 15 vacancies heading into the first day of school.

CMS also announced the adoption of a new curriculum, which will have a limited rollout this year before expanding to more grade levels. Students in kindergarten through third grade as well as those in sixth grade will use a new English language arts curriculum from EL Education. Students in eighth grade will use a new curriculum in math from Open Up Resources.

Brian Kingsley, chief academic officer, said that one of the strengths of the new curricula is that it is open sourced, which means the content is free and open to the public, allowing access for parents, community partners, tutors and after-school programs.

“This allows us to have community coherence around how we’re strategizing around developing our children’s ability to read, write, listen and speak,” Kingsley said. “And that’s an incredibly exciting effort.”


Correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which grades will use a new English language arts curriculum from EL Education. Students in kindergarten through third grade as well as those in sixth grade will use the new English language arts curriculum.

Annie Ma covers education for the Charlotte Observer. She previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Chalkbeat New York, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Oregonian. She grew up in Florida and graduated from Dartmouth College.
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