CMS still faces teacher assistant funding gap

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools still faces a teaching assistant funding gap despite an attempted legislative fix in the last days of the session, district leaders told the school board Tuesday night.

The failure of that bill was just one example of a flurry of late-session activity that affected schools before the N.C. General Assembly adjourned last week, CMS associate general counsel Jonathan Sink said.

In the days after the budget passed, CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison said the state budget created a $2.6 million funding gap that would eliminate about 90 teaching assistant positions. Since then, district staff have determined that the gap is closer to $1.6 million.

Because CMS had nearly 150 vacancies, no layoffs are required. The district has 1,586 teacher assistants.

Morrison said he does not label it a cut because it’s the result of complicated funding formulas rather than an intentional decision to reduce money for teacher assistants.

State lawmakers later put a fix for the situation in a technical corrections bill, which ultimately did not pass, Morrison said Tuesday.

Another key, and controversial, part of the budget included a pay raise for teachers after half a decade of wage freezes. Teachers received an average of a 5.5 percent overall pay raise, though younger teachers got much larger increases than those with more tenure.

Veteran teachers also protested the elimination of longevity pay, a system that gave educators a lump sum payment each year depending on how long they’d been working.

But the budget also created other disparities in pay that have rankled school system employees. Most state employees received a $1,000 raise and five bonus vacation days. School district employees who are not teachers received a $500 raise and no extra vacation days.

School board members asked if there was a rationale given for the disparity. Morrison said he’s been asked that question often but said he hasn’t been able to give them an answer.

Several board members said they were frustrated with how the state legislature handled the issue.

“We need to start treating our school employees just as we treat all the other employees,” board member Rhonda Lennon said.

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