Clark seeks $23 million increase for CMS – but county says $11 million or less

Teacher pay, which is mostly a state decision, is always one of the biggest variables in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget.
Teacher pay, which is mostly a state decision, is always one of the biggest variables in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget.

Superintendent Ann Clark presented a $1.4 billion budget plan Tuesday that calls for a $23 million increase in county money for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley called it “lean,” with increases that cover enrollment growth, modest teacher raises and other required expenses without asking for money to launch new programs. It calls for just over $425 million in county money, a 5.7 percent increase over this year’s $402 million.

But at a separate meeting earlier Tuesday, county officials told commissioners that the county is experiencing a “modest” growth in revenues that would likely provide a much smaller increase for CMS – some commissioners say about half of the CMS request.

$402 million county money for CMS this year

$425 million proposed for next year

$23 million increase

It’s the opening round in an annual back-and-forth, in which CMS talks about growing needs while county commissioners, who provide about one-third of the district’s operating budget, talk about holding down property taxes. As always, the CMS plan is something of an informed guess. The state provides almost 60 percent of the budget, and lawmakers will make crucial decisions this summer.

Raises for teachers and other employees drive the bulk of the growth in Clark’s request to the county. Her staff estimates that state raises will average 3 percent. That would require almost $9 million more from the county just to make sure employees get what they’re entitled to, based on the state pay scale and the existing plan for county supplements.

Teachers have called for the county to boost that supplement to help CMS recruit and reward teachers, but Clark’s plan includes no such increase.

$1.31 billion total CMS budget this year

$1.37 billion proposed for next year

$58.6 million increase

Anticipated enrollment growth accounts for another $9 million added to the current budget. CMS expects almost 3,200 additional public school students in Mecklenburg next year, but projects that almost 2,700 of them will choose charter schools. That means CMS would have to pass along an additional $8.5 million to those independently run schools, based on a per-pupil share of the county budget for education. If Clark’s plan is approved and the projections prove true, Mecklenburg County would spend about $46 million on charter schools next year.

“I want to be clear that $17.3 million of our ask is for two items: a salary increase and the charter-school pass-through,” Clark told the board.

The biggest new expense, almost $3 million, is an expansion of busing to magnet schools to allow more students access to the specialized programs. The expansion, announced earlier this school year, will add $6 million to the transportation budget. But CMS officials said they offset half of that through other budget cuts.

If they’re going to end up with about $10 million no matter how you slice it, why would we all waste energy talking about $20 million asks?

Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett

Clark’s request is sure to draw criticism from Mecklenburg County commissioners.

Tuesday, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio and Budget Director Michael Bryant told commissioners that the county expects a smaller-than-expected revenue increase: $24.7 million.

If history holds, with CMS getting about 43 percent of the county’s budget, the school board should expect a $10 million to $11 million increase, commissioner Jim Puckett said.

Bryant and Diorio presented five possible funding formulas for CMS. Two were based on projected revenues and three on per-pupil spending.

Commissioners seemed to like both revenue-based formulas and a per-pupil spending formula that includes three-year inflation averages and funding to charter schools. Those formulas would give CMS just over $10 million more than this year.

Diorio will present her budget recommendation in late May.

Commissioners will likely agree on a formula for the fiscal year 2018 budget, board Chairman Trevor Fuller said. He told Diorio to share the formulas with school board members.

“The whole point in having the funding formulas is to say early on, ‘Look, here is the revenue growth we’re dealing with,’” Fuller said. “If your portion is, say, $10 million and you come in and ask for $30 million, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it.”

Puckett and commissioner George Dunlap asked Diorio to report on possible formulas this year so the school board and public would know what the district could expect from commissioners.

“If they’re going to end up with about $10 million no matter how you slice it, why would we all waste energy talking about $20 million asks?” Puckett said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms; Perlmutt: 704-358-5061, @dperlmutt

Search and student assignment

▪ The school board interviewed four prospective superintendent search consultants Tuesday. Board members will make their selection public after the board’s lawyer negotiates a contract.

▪ The board’s policy committee will discuss guiding principles for student assignment at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 527 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. The meeting is open to the public. Details:

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