Frustrated CMS leaders say raises remain top priority

Frustrated CMS leaders say raises remain top priority

Frustrated CMS leaders say raises remain top priority

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by ANN DOSS HELMS / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on June 6, 2012 at 10:26 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members said Wednesday they remain dedicated to providing 3 percent staff raises, but they hammered Mecklenburg County commissioners for putting restrictions on money for raises.

Board member Eric Davis questioned the legitimacy of the restriction approved Tuesday, saying it violates basic government principles and usurps decisions that belong to the school board.
“We stick to our role; they should stick to theirs,” Davis said.

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said it won’t be clear whether the board needs to make new budget cuts until the state budget is approved.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to give CMS $335 million in 2012-13, a $9.5 million increase over the current year. But they put $18.5 million into a restricted fund to be released only for 3 percent raises. That means CMS will have less in unrestricted spending, even as enrollment is expected to grow and costs are rising.

The state provides more than half the CMS operating budget, but lawmakers haven’t settled on a budget yet. The House approved a budget that would give CMS $31 million more than district leaders expected when preparing the 2012-13 spending plan, but it’s not clear whether the Senate will agree.

Commissioners said they didn’t trust the school board to use additional money for raises, and said their restriction helps ensure that the district’s 18,000-plus employees get the 3 percent hike.

Vice Chairman Mary McCray, one of three new members who weren’t on the board for past budget votes, said she was frustrated by commissioners’ frequent references to history: “I wish there was some way we could wave a magic wand and wipe out the past and start fresh.”

Also Wednesday, the board approved shifting just over $7 million in federal money from free tutoring for students to a “strategic coaching model” that helps teachers target student weaknesses.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act had required CMS to offer the tutoring at several schools that failed to met academic standards. The money, which was paid to private tutoring services, came from the federal Title I program for high-poverty schools.

North Carolina recently got a waiver from the federal requirements. Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark told the board she believes students will benefit from shifting the money to a program that has had good results at other schools. The strategic coaching plan involves sending in a team of specialists in reading, math, special education and for students who are learning English. The team helps teachers devise lessons to help students who aren’t passing exams.

CMS gets $36.5 million in Title I money. Clark said $15 million of that goes to 64 schools with poverty levels of 75 percent or higher. Those schools can use their money to pay for tutoring if they consider it helpful, she said.

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