Charlotte-Mecklenburg board to study school bus schedules

Charlotte-Mecklenburg board to study school bus schedules

Charlotte-Mecklenburg board to study school bus schedules

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by ANN DOSS HELMS / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 8:48 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members saying they’ve been bombarded by complaints about late school hours, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said Monday he’ll run cost estimates for revamping the schedule.

“We’re getting emails by the bucketloads,” Vice Chairman Mary McCray said of parent and teacher reactions to “bell schedules” that dismiss some schools as late as 4:15 p.m.

The later schedules were created this year, and touted at the time as saving $4 million in busing costs by allowing buses to make more runs.

Members said rather than undo that whole plan, they’d like to look at options for smaller-scale change, such as making sure some or all schools move back from 4:15 to no later than 4 p.m.

Rhonda Lennon said that 15 minutes could give students an additional 30 to 45 minutes at home by keeping buses out of the worst evening traffic.

“There is an outcry all through this county – urban, suburban, low income, high income,” she said. “It is damaging us all through this district.”

The challenge: Any additional spending for buses could reduce money for employee raises, which all board members say is a top priority.

Hattabaugh’s 2012-13 proposal seeks $355.9 million from the county, $27.5 million more than CMS is getting this year. He and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley told the board that if CMS gets only $22.8 million more, they’d recommend protecting the proposed 3 percent across-the-board raises for all employees and dropping $4.8 million in proposed new spending, including 62 more ninth-grade teachers to reduce class sizes.

Smaller bumps from the county would mean smaller raises, they said. If CMS gets no extra money, there would only be enough for about 0.5 percent raises, posing the question of whether that’s the best way to spend that money, Hattabaugh and Shirley said.

Most CMS employees have gotten no raises since 2008-09, when the state froze teacher pay.

Because the cost of living has risen, “their purchasing power has gone down, down, down, down, and their morale has gone in the same direction,” said board member Richard McElrath, a retired teacher. “There’s nothing to me more important.”

Members talked about ways to award raises if CMS doesn’t get enough for 3 percent across the board. Lennon suggested restricting raises to teachers and principals. Eric Davis talked about tying raises to job evaluations. McCray said she thinks everyone deserves a raise, but suggested one-time bonuses for non-educators as a fallback plan.

Few had suggestions for finding additional money. Lennon said she supports the district’s Bright Beginnings prekindergarten but thinks CMS could find savings from the roughly $9 million in county money budgeted for it. She also asked CMS to hold off on spending $3.5 million in this year’s budget on iPads for classrooms, saying that should wait until everyone has interactive computerized “smart boards” for classroom use.

Chief Information Officer Scott Muri, who is in charge of the push for wireless digital technology, said tablets are a better investment now: “Smart boards of yesteryear were wonderful,” he said. “Today there’s a better way.”

Last year the prospect of massive layoffs, which didn’t materialize, mobilized parents and community leaders to lobby county commissioners for money for CMS. Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart said she hopes people remain active this year.

“We as a board can’t do this alone,” she said. “Public education is truly an economic driver.”

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