If Mecklenburg County commissioners have to decide between a property tax increase and the needs of public schools, it will fall to the community to make the choice, Superintendent Ann Clark said Thursday.
Two days after unveiling a request for $425 million in county money, a $23 million increase over the current year, Clark held a news conference to defend that plan.
Commissioners have been skeptical of the size of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools request, with some saying the district is more likely to get about $11 million more in the coming year. They’ve also voiced frustration with Clark’s push to get an $805 million school bond referendum on the November ballot.
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Clark said most of the increased spending isn’t optional, and her job is to push for the district’s needs. She said other groups that get county money also support education, including the public library system, Central Piedmont Community College and the Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’s not about somebody getting at the expense of someone else,” she said. So if the current tax rate can’t cover all the needs, Clark said the question becomes: “Would the community support a tax increase in order to meet the critical needs in our district?”
We are not coming to the county with anything other than those things that are critically important.
Superintendent Ann Clark
The county provides almost one-third of CMS’ operating budget, which is expected to hit $1.4 billion for the coming year. A portion of the county money, estimated at $46 million for the coming year, has to be passed along to charter schools that educate Mecklenburg students.
The anticipated rise in charter school enrollment accounts for almost $8.5 million in additional county money next year, which gets lumped into the CMS budget. And almost $9 million will be used to make sure CMS employees who are paid with county money get the same raises as state-paid teachers. The size of the raise is uncertain until the General Assembly votes this summer, but Clark is estimating 3 percent.
One new spending item is an expansion of busing to magnet schools, which the school board approved in November. In order to give families a choice of neighborhood bus stops or shuttle stops – sort of an express stop where students converge from a wider area – CMS will spend $6 million to add buses and drivers.
Clark and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said the district made small cuts to several administrative and support areas to offset about half that cost, but it still needs almost $3 million for the new approach.
“We have already put that in motion. We’re not going to reverse it,” Clark said.
Clark said she’s been making the case for construction needs and a bond vote for more than a year. Starting April 25, she’ll host public meetings around the district to talk about the budget needs.