Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools OKs record $1.2 billion budget

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools OKs record $1.2 billion budget

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools OKs record $1.2 billion budget


by ANN DOSS HELMS / The Charlotte Observer

Posted on July 24, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 24 at 9:53 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board unanimously approved a $1.2 billion budget Tuesday, topping its pre-recession high by almost $8 million.

The budget for the coming school year includes 3 percent raises for more than 18,000 employees – and larger hikes for about 6,000 who were deemed to be below market rates in 2007.

The budget also adds about 85 teachers and technology facilitators in high schools. Additional teachers and other staff will be hired based on anticipated growth of about 2,000 students.

Board members rejoiced at the chance to start adding back to a budget that’s seen major cuts for the last three years, and thanked state and county officials for their support.

“Funding of education truly is a partnership,” board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart said.

“This is the first time in the three years I’ve done this that I’ve had a smile,” said board member Tim Morgan.

The new budget sets aside a little more than $800,000 for Superintendent Heath Morrison to create new initiatives, which were not specified Tuesday. Morrison started July 1, and plans to spend his first three months talking to people and getting to know issues and needs.

Morrison said the raises are an “amazing opportunity” to “make sure our employees know how much we value them,” a sentiment echoed by board members.

An additional $570,000 will help students pay for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. CMS used to pay the full cost, but eliminated that when the recession hit.

This year’s growth – the budget is up by about 3 percent – came from increases granted by county commissioners and state legislators, as well as the way previous administrators spent federal stimulus money to avoid a sharp drop-off when that money ran out this year.

It’s a change of pace from the last three years, which were marked by layoffs, frozen pay and other cuts. CMS took an overall cut of $54 million in 2009-10. Small increases the next two years didn’t cover that gap, as enrollment continued to inch up.

“We’ve spent the last three years throwing things overboard, trying to save the district as a whole,” board member Eric Davis said. “Finally, finally we can start rebuilding.”

The 2012-13 budget comes to $8,589 per pupil, with enrollment expected to reach 140,000 K-12 students. That’s still less than the $8,912 per pupil budgeted in 2008-09, when CMS had almost 6,000 fewer students.

Before the recession, state lawmakers budgeted annual raises for teachers and CMS and used that as the benchmark for all raises. The state froze raises for the last three years and CMS followed suit, though some staff got pay hikes based on promotions or new duties.

Starting in January, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh argued for Mecklenburg County commissioners to provide $25 million or more to provide 3 percent across-the-board raises. The two-year state budget approved in 2011 contained no teacher raises for 2012-13. But in the end, the state provided 1.2 percent raises and CMS is using county money to bump that to 3 percent.

In addition, officials have said about 5,800 hourly workers will get “market adjustment” raises of up to $1,040 a year, while about 250 salaried staff will get annual market raises ranging from $181 to $17,202 a year. Those raises are based on a 2007 comparison study by Deloitte Consulting, comparing CMS wages with those paid in 2006 to employees of other school districts.

CMS officials say they’ll release more details this week about who is getting the larger raises.

Board member Rhonda Lennon, who voted against the budget plan this spring, said she voted yes to show support for Morrison. But she said she is troubled by the market adjustment raises.

“I don’t understand that one that’s going to be talked about in the media for a while, the $17,000 one,” she said.