Charlotte Buys iPads, Struggles to Budget Staff Salaries

Hugh Hattabaugh, Interim Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, has told the board that they need another $27.5 million from the county to begin the district’s rebuilding process. He blamed last year’s slump in high school examination performance on staff cuts forced on them by harsh budgets over the last three years.

Hattabaugh says most of the money is needed to match what the county plans to do for its own staff: Provide small raises and cover rising health insurance and retirement costs. There’s also money to add teachers and tech support in high schools, beef up the district’s digital communication, recruit teachers and expand truancy court

They are unlikely to get this much funding, however, as commissioners’ Chairman Harold Codgell has already said that finding the requested money would mean a 3-cent tax hike, a move already ruled out by the County manager, or equivalent cuts in other services.

The state froze teacher pay in 2008-9 because of budget concerns and most CMS employees have received no raises since then. With the economy starting to look up Hattabaugh thinks it’s time for that to change. His argument is that it’s not fair to continue the pay freeze for teacher when County employees got a 3% raise this year and a planned 2% raise for next year. While a fair argument, the budgetary challenge is that CMS employs a workforce four times as large as that of Mecklenburg County.

The quest for raises poses the biggest challenge. Hattabaugh originally said it would take $25 million to $30 million in new county money to give 3 percent raises to more than 18,000 CMS employees. But he and Shirley freed up $7.5 million in existing county money to cover 1 percent, so they’re now seeking $18.6 million for the remaining 2 percent.

Some commentators may be surprised that CMS is requesting additional money for ‘rebuilding’ shortly after spending $10 million on iPads for the classroom.