Mecklenburg County is proposing a big change to the way schools are funded. This move takes human judgment out of the equation, and it could shield commissioners from public input.
The current system, in brief: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools develops a budget request; the county manager responds with a budget recommendation; citizens weigh in at public hearings; and the county commission votes on the final budget.
Under the new system, the county would adopt a fixed formula to regulate local school funding. Commissioners plan to choose from one of four possible funding formulas, all of which were developed in a vacuum without constituent feedback. Are any of these formulas better for students? We don’t know – they haven’t been vetted.
Here is my concern: Schools operate in a dynamic, complex, rapidly changing landscape. In this fluid environment it is better to rely on human judgment and expertise – the judgment of our county manager and superintendent – rather than a locked-in funding formula. It takes nimbleness and flexibility to respond to budget needs that change year over year.
If we are to be as efficient and effective as possible in developing the workforce and serving the best interests of our children, then we must be adaptable. By abdicating to a formula, county commissioners would be avoiding the tough budget decisions they are elected to make.
We are better for having challenging conversations.
CMS, the Board of Education and the county must increase dialogue with each other and with our shared constituents. We must create more opportunities for vigorous community engagement. We elected officials make smarter decisions when we have feedback from each other and from those we serve.
What are your thoughts? Charlotte-Mecklenburg citizens care deeply about public school policy and funding decisions. Pro or con, I hope you will weigh in about this change. The school board and county commission share the same constituency, and your insights matter. We’ve been told that no community engagement has been planned around this change, because this is “the Board of County Commission’s decision to make.” Therefore, if you have an opinion, you’ll need to take the initiative.
I am troubled by what seems like a desire to remove the public’s voice from the county budget process. In a January TV interview, Commissioner Jim Puckett pitched the funding formula this way: “It takes the politics out of it. It takes the dog and pony show out of it.”
Challenging conversations. Some call it a “dog and pony show.” I call it democracy.
Dashew is an at-large member and vice chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.