CMS would use sales tax money for veteran teacher raises

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would use part of the money raised by a proposed county sales tax increase to shore up pay increases for veteran teachers, Superintendent Heath Morrison said Monday.

He was one of several leaders of county organizations to visit the Observer to lay out their plans or positions on the controversial measure county commissioners placed on the November ballot that would raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent for each dollar spent.

Eighty percent of the money is earmarked for CMS employee raises, while the rest is split among Central Piedmont Community College, the Arts & Science Council and the county library system. The sales tax increase will raise an estimated $35 million a year.

Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan also said Monday that the chamber’s executive committee has voted to endorse the sales tax referendum. The group had so far been hesitant to support the measure, which commissioners approved in June. The full chamber board will vote on an endorsement next week.

“These are critical community priorities,” Morgan said. He said the referendum took the chamber by surprise, and he wished it hadn’t materialized so quickly. But now that it’s on the ballot, the chamber will fully endorse it, he said.

The total dollar figure will likely fluctuate each year based on sales receipts. Morrison said that makes the district hesitant to implement an across-the-board raise that might have to be curtailed in a troubled economy. As estimated, the sales tax increase would be enough to fund a 3 percent across-the-board raise for all 18,500 CMS employees.

Instead, CMS will look to fill what the district feels are gaps in pay raises for teachers in the most recent state budget, Morrison said.

While the legislature approved what amounts to a 7 percent average raise for teachers, not all teachers received the same pay increase. Younger teachers can see as much as an 18 percent jump in their pay, while veteran teachers can receive as little as 0.3 percent – a dichotomy that sparked outrage among long-tenured teachers in Charlotte and across the state.

The state budget introduced other odd disparities between school system employees and other public workers. For example, most state employees received $1,000 raises and five bonus vacation days. School district employees who aren’t teachers received $500 raises and no vacation days.

The CMS plan for sales tax money could go toward shrinking those gaps.

“All employees will see something,” Morrison said.

CMS might also use money for retention bonuses or other targeted incentives. Morrison said district leaders are meeting with employee groups and parent-teacher organizations to get feedback.

The other organizations in line to receive money from the sales tax increase have also begun crafting plans to put it to work.

• Central Piedmont Community College plans to implement an across-the-board raise for faculty and staff, spokesman Jeff Lowrance said. He declined to estimate how much the average raise could be. Spread across approximately 1,100 full-time faculty and staff, the college’s allotment could bump pay by $2,300.

• The Arts & Science Council plans to use the bulk of its money to fund field trips and put programs into schools, President Robert Bush said. Other priorities include funding grant programs and improving technology.

• Charlotte Mecklenburg Library plans to increase its investment in books and materials, including its digital offerings, CEO Lee Keesler said. The system would also boost spending on its infrastructure.

Monday’s announcements come days after advocates for the sales tax referendum have launched a public campaign, called Together4Meck, to push for its passage.