Teachers at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools haven't had a pay raise in four years after the state froze teacher pay in 2008-9 due to budget concerns. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh has presented the county with a request for $355.9 million, $27.5 million more than the school officials asked for last year, primarily to fund a 3% raise for the 18,000 employees who have seen their wages fall in real terms over the last half decade.
Hattabaugh is already on record as saying that it's time to redress the imbalance that led to a pay freeze for teachers while city and county employees got their standard pay increases,
"We're at a critical juncture," said Hattabaugh, arguing that as enrollment continues to grow, CMS should reward teachers for their increasingly difficult work with fewer resources.
"We come here today not (for) a handout, but because we've done more with less – a lot less," said school board chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart.
However Republican Commissioners such as Neil Cooksey say that if recruiting effective teachers and providing them with fair compensation really is a priority for the school board then this should be reflected in the board's base budget.
"From this side of the table, it looks like you've kind of secured the fortress of the existing programs," said Cooksey. "And then whatever additional things you deem to be important that have some political appeal orâ¦sympathy value, you put on us, and then make us the bad guys."
Republican at-large Commissioner Jim Pendergraph echoed Cooksey's concerns. "It does put us in a bad position," he said.
As Caroline McMillan of the Charlotte Observer notes, the Commissioners seem unwilling to cede too much ground after last year's debacle where the county approved a $26 million funding increase for CMS based on estimates of state funding being cut by 15% and ultimately learned that state funding was only cut by 6.8% allowing CMS a real budget increase of 1.7% on the previous year.
While CMS may protest that the fault lies with the budgeting system and not with them, one can hardly fault the county commissioners for feeling swindled.
The CMS request for an additional $27.5 million to pay for salary increases is especially controversial considering that just prior to the request they spent $10 million on iPads for their classrooms.
"I think it's unanimous in this room that we are proud you have a system that is well-respected throughout our nation," said Commission Chairman Harold Cogdell, Jr. "We all agreeâ¦we would love to see improved outcomes in the communities. The only disagreement is how we get there."
County commissioners will submit their proposed budget by the end of this month.