County puts CMS at a competitive disadvantage

Ann Clark
Ann Clark

From Ann Clark, Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

June has been both an exciting and disappointing month for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

I've experienced the excitement of seeing more than 9,100 CMS seniors graduate and pursue the next phase of their lives. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing thousands more students, teachers and staff members share heartfelt goodbyes as they celebrated another year of growth and learning.

This excitement was followed by disappointing budget news from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, which voted to provide CMS with $13.9 million of its $39.9 million request for additional county funding for 2015-2016. The approved budget for CMS also included a one-time appropriation of $4 million for maintenance and technology.

CMS has a strong track record of improving academic outcomes for students. Our graduation rate of 85.1 percent has increased 15 percentage points in the last five years and exceeds the state average. College and career readiness levels are on the rise and exceed the state average in every subject area. Our students' SAT scores are increasing. More students are taking advanced placement courses to help prepare them to succeed in college and the increasingly competitive global workplaces they will enter.

While we are making progress, there is still more work to do. CMS and the families it serves rely heavily on funding approved through the county commission to address some challenging fiscal realities. More than 40 percent of our students are not reading on grade level and many of our students from all areas of the county struggle with social and emotional challenges that can impede academic success. Student enrollment continues to grow, increasing the need for upgraded and new facilities and highly skilled educators.

We are at a competitive disadvantage nationally and locally when it comes to attracting and retaining the best people to serve our students. North Carolina teacher pay ranks 42nd in the nation and all of our neighboring states offer more competitive pay.

With only one third of our county budget request approved and a requirement to pass through an additional $8 million to charter schools next year, it will be very difficult to address these challenging realities next school year.

Final budget decisions will not be made until we receive a state approved budget, but we will continue to look for ways to reallocate money for priorities that support our north star of literacy.

Successful public schools deliver the workforce we need to support economic opportunity locally and nationally. A strong CMS is the foundation for thriving communities and businesses across Mecklenburg County. Now is the time to put the needs of our students and schools first. Now is the time for all of us – school district leaders and county and state legislators – to work together to inform future budgets that provide the best education possible for the students we serve.