Support Waning for Charlotte School Budget as Vote Looms

Despite teachers urging the public to rally for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to receive raises for their teachers, the county budget hearing seems to be attracting far less reaction than last years.

Last year more than 150 people turned out to urge commissioners to find extra funds for public education in the wake of CMS leaders projecting large numbers of teacher layoffs and cuts. This year only 40 people have signed up to speak about a budget which features a small tax cut and increased spending. The reduction in numbers was played down by parent and advocate Elyse Dashew:

“I’m not sure we could expect people to rally that energetically for a single issue year after year – nor should we,” Dashew said. “It’s not something that you can fix with an annual fire drill exercise each spring. It takes longer-term work to build longer-term solutions.”

Judy Kidd, leader of the Classroom Teachers Association, and about 30 teachers gathered Wednesday to urge CMS employees to seek funds for a 3% raise in 2012-13. Most CMS employees have been subject to a pay freeze since 2008 while seeing costs for insurance and other benefits rise making them worse off in real terms.

Last year commissioners voted for an increase of $27.5 million for CMS after Superintendent Peter Gorman projected that $50 million would be needed to avert layoffs and drastic cuts to kindergarten services. The following day Gorman announced that the better than anticipated state budget meant no cuts would happen and promptly resigned to take a private sector job. Needless to say, commissioners felt taken advantage of, although new Superintendent Hattabaugh is quick to deny any manipulation of numbers instead blaming the system which requires them to compile a budget before knowing how much state aid they will receive.

Commissioners are due to vote on the budget on June 5.

County Manager Harry Jones’ proposed $1.4 billion budget gives CMS $335 million – a $9.1 million increase over the current year. That would allow 1.6 percent raises for all employees, CMS officials say.

The board has asked for almost $356 million, saying that’s what it needs to provide 3 percent raises and cover rising costs and enrollment growth. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said Wednesday CMS would need $10 million more than Jones is proposing to hit the 3 percent mark.

Coincidentally, $10 million is also the figure that CMS spent on iPads for the classroom right before asking for $27.5 million to pay for the teacher salary increase.