Gorman: Commissioners in a ‘tough spot'

If Mecklenburg commissioners' comments Tuesday offered an accurate gauge, local education officials should plan on receiving millions less in county dollars next year than they'd hoped.

Superintendent Peter Gorman went before the commissioners to argue that the schools should receive the full $370 million they've requested from the county this year.

County Manager Harry Jones, hoping to avoid a tax increase, has recommended giving Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools $351 million instead.

After hearing Gorman and CMS staffers talk about school needs Tuesday, Parks Helms argued that taxes should be raised so CMS could get the additional $18million. Under Helms' plan, Central Piedmont Community College could also receive the extra $1.8 million it sought.

Few others supported him.

Commissioners chairman Jennifer Roberts said she believes CMS has made a reasonable budget request. But she cited the slumping economy and rising gas prices as reasons why she's reluctant to grant the full amount.

“We do have some tough decisions,” she said. “I'm not sure in the end anyone's going to be satisfied.”

Gorman has said the schools face “potentially devastating” cuts if commissioners approve Jones' spending plan in mid-June. Gorman describes the $351 million as barely enough to cover enrollment growth and to open seven new schools this fall.

“They're in a tough spot with limited dollars,” he said of the commissioners after the meeting. “At the same time, we have real needs for our kids.”

Gorman said he and his staff are trying to map out potential cuts, and he expects to talk with the school board about it during their first meeting in June.

He started taking action last week by announcing a hiring freeze. He said he would allow principals to hire staff to open the new schools and to serve an anticipated 3,000 additional students next year.

But each principal whose school isn't fully staffed is expected to hold one classroom position vacant.

The district has 132,300 students now and expects 135,800 next year. CMS staff passed out statistics showing that 85percent of the school system's budget is spent on its 19,000 employees.