Students feel impact of insufficient CMS funding

The bemoaning has begun. Mecklenburg County commissioners provided $351 million for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools next year – up $10 million over this year, but about $18 million short of what the district wanted. So school officials cut 331 jobs for the coming school year, and some folks aren't happy.

In all, CMS is trimming $24 million from its proposed budget as the system tackles soaring fuel costs, insufficient facilities plus increasing numbers of poor and academically struggling students who require additional resources. CMS officials said the expected $1.2 billion budget – most of which goes to staffing – increased barely enough to cover enrollment growth and the opening of new schools. New initiatives such as a second Performance Learning Center, a small high school setting that's proving to help some struggling students, are being scrapped.

Superintendent Peter Gorman acknowledged last week that the “cuts will have real impact on children.” That's because the jobs cut include teachers, counselors and school library workers. Sixty-six teachers will be eliminated from elementary schools. High-poverty schools will keep their kindergarten through third grade 1-to-16 teacher-student ratio. But the ratio in low-poverty schools will go up from one per 21 to one per 22.

Some observers now lament the impact. Some, like school board member Kaye McGarry, feel more cuts should have come from administration, that CMS should have been “stronger in saying ‘Protect the classroom.'” But that's unrealistic in trimming $24 million.

CMS is not alone in making such cuts. Wake County Schools face a $39 million shortfall. Officials predict larger classes, fewer supplies, program cuts and higher fees. But that's no consolation. Students, and the communities they live in, lose when schools are shortchanged like this.

Coupled with the N.C. legislature's decision to provide smaller salary increases for teachers and less than schools have asked for statewide, many school systems will have great difficulty adequately meeting the academic and facility needs of students.

Come next year at grade time, the public no doubt will bemoan the consequences of the cuts. It will be too late. Investments matter. We must try harder to remember that.