CMS: Students need more social, emotional help

While teacher raises have grabbed the spotlight, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget that goes to the school board Tuesday also includes plans to hire 40 more counselors, psychologists and social workers to help students cope with life so they can learn.

The $3.7 million request is dwarfed by the $1.3 billion budget, which also includes almost $27 million in new county money for raises. But CMS leaders say it’s part of a spending plan that evolved from listening to principals, teachers and community members. They say they heard repeatedly about students from all backgrounds who struggle with mental illness, family turmoil and other issues that can detract from academic success.

“It’s one small step in trying to rebuild the damage that the budget cuts did in our system,” says board member Eric Davis.

The board’s vote on Superintendent Heath Morrison’s 2014-15 budget plan is expected to be unanimous, and to launch the next step in a push to get county commissioners to increase spending for public education by $46.2 million. That includes almost $7 million that will be passed along for a growing number of Mecklenburg students in charter schools.

State legislators control well over half the CMS budget, and the 2014 session that begins Wednesday will shape teacher pay and education policy. But the local money provides the most flexibility for Morrison and the board.

Morrison told a gathering of employees and families that he knows his request is large: “Forty-six point two million dollars is a lot of money,” he said at South Mecklenburg High last week. “It’s your money. It’s taxpayer money.”

The pitch: It’s the community’s agenda. Morrison and the board say their priorities came from repeated surveys and months of public meetings and target the items that can make the most difference.

Student support

The $3.7 million request would cover 33 school counselors, four psychologists and three social workers. It’s the first step in a four-year push to get CMS closer to recommended ratios for student support.

For instance, the American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor per 250 students, while CMS counselors are responsible for 500 to 750, according to a CMS handout. CMS school psychologists serve more than three times the recommended level of 1,000 students.

Many of those jobs were cut during the recession, when CMS laid off hundreds of teachers and other employees.

Staff raises

The request for $27 million in county money would add to any raises provided statewide.

For instance, if the General Assembly were to approve a Republican plan that provides 7 percent raises to early-career teachers and gives 2 percent to all other state employees, the county money would be enough to match those raises for employees paid with local money and then add 2.5 percent for everyone, the budget plan says. That would mean total raises ranging from 4.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

If the state provides nothing this year, the local money would let CMS provide 3 percent for all employees.

The budget calls for CMS to have 17,338 positions next year. That tally counts two half-time workers as one job; the actual number of individuals on the payroll is about 18,500.

New schools, options

In the last few months, the CMS board approved several new schools and programs to open in August, including three small high schools based on college campuses, a Montessori magnet school on the campus of Long Creek Elementary and several programs offering a focus on math, science and technology.

While the state pays for teachers based on enrollment, CMS is seeking $1.8 million from the county to add counselors, secretaries and other support staff, pay the county supplement for four more principals and buy additional supplies and technology.

The budget also calls for spending $679,000 to hire county-paid support staff for a new elementary school opening in southwest Charlotte in August, plus pay staff to start early preparing for the opening of four new schools in August 2015.

The new space will cost an additional $1.3 million in county money for maintenance.

‘Personalized learning’

Morrison’s plan seeks almost $1.6 million for technology to help educators design and track personalized plans for each student’s education.

“This is an intentional mind-shift in the way teachers have previously instructed,” the budget says. “To support the mind-shift to personalized learning, funding is requested to provide a platform for personalized learning, corresponding software and specialized professional development.”