CMS proposed budget includes 3 percent pay increase for employees

Superintendent Heath Morrison unveiled a proposed budget Tuesday that calls for a $46.2 million increase from the county to help pay for a 3 percent pay increase and other educational improvements.

The proposal would increase the county funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools nearly 13 percent to $402.7 million.

Most CMS employees have gotten only one raise, of 3 percent, in the last five years. Last year they got nothing.

Nearly $27 million of the higher request would go toward bumping employee pay.

The state currently ranks 46th in the country on teacher pay, about $10,000 less than the national average, Morrison said, noting the district average falls between $7,000 and $8,000 below regional competitors.

If the state legislature decides to provide across-the-board raises for teachers and other state employees when it reconvenes in May, Morrison said, that money would mean the pay raise could be more than 3 percent. “(But) we have no true idea right now what will happen at the state level,” he said.

Garinger High School history teacher James Ford, who was recently named 2014 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, told school board members that gifted teachers are leaving the state in droves because of low pay and other challenges.

“I do not envy your position,” Ford said.

Morrison’s budget projected that charter schools will get an increase of $6.7 million from the county request. Charter schools are independently run public schools authorized by the state. Local school districts are required to pass along a per-pupil share of county education money for students in charter schools.

The budget also includes $8.5 million just to cover the rising costs of existing programs.

Morrison also wants to spend $8.3 million for new initiatives. They include:

Opportunities for feedback

To craft the budget proposal, school administrators relied on more than 12,000 surveys, multiple community meetings and feedback from CMS employees, Morrison said.

Many school board members expressed initial support for the proposed budget, but a vote isn’t scheduled until May 13. A budget work session is planned for April 29.

“If there ever was a time to rally around our public school system it is now,” school board member Eric Davis said.

There will also be two community meetings on the budget recommendation, as well as a public hearing, before board members approve a budget to present to the county manager.

“There will be many, many opportunities for citizens to come forward and tell us what they thought we got right and where we could do better,” Morrison said.

After two years of county cuts during the recession, CMS has gotten increases ranging from $9 million to $26 million for the past three years. Last year the district got a bump of $19.1 million.

County Manager Dena Diorio told the Observer last month that CMS’ request would be evaluated with all the other requests before she presents her recommended budget to county commissioners in late May.

Diorio said the county is expecting about $35 million in surplus money, but commissioners have expressed the need to give some of that back to taxpayers in a tax cut.

County commissioners won’t vote on an operating budget until mid-June, and it could be September before a finalized operating budget is approved by the school board.

Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.