School supporters rally for more money from Mecklenburg

School supporters rally for more money from Mecklenburg

School supporters rally for more money from Mecklenburg

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by CARMEN CUSIDO / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on May 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- About a dozen supporters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rallied outside the Government Center Thursday to weigh in on Mecklenburg County’s proposed spending plan for 2012-13.

CMS employees and supporters cheered when county commissioners chairman Harold Cogdell noted that more than 2,000 teachers, administrators and parents had signed and filed a petition asking commissioners to provide more money for school employee pay raises. CMS is proposing 3 percent raises overall, and is asking the county to fund 2 percent of that.

At the annual budget hearing, residents pleaded with county leaders to spend more money next year on schools and community nonprofits. Others praised the budget proposal for the libraries and the Park and Recreation department.

Though 45 people signed up to speak at the hearing, many spoke in groups and more than 150 people turned out – including about two dozen county sheriffs’ officers. Before opening the hearing to the public, Cogdell said the board was there to listen to the speakers’ comments, but not engage in discussion.

The majority of the speakers and those in the audience were CMS employees and supporters. Many carried posters and cheered and clapped as speaker after speaker talked about funding pay raises.

Most of the school system’s 18,000-plus employees have gotten no raises since 2008, while seeing their costs for insurance and other benefits rise. Some of the speakers said that with staples such as gas and food prices going up, not having a pay increase is akin is a pay decrease.

“We came to have a common-sense discussion,” said Judy Kidd, an Independence High teacher who leads the Classroom Teachers Association. “CMS employees have had no increase since 2008. We’ve actually had a decrease in salary.”

At Kidd’s request, CMS staff members– stood up while a group representing the schools spoke.
“We need to be able to recruit and retain the best teachers in Mecklenburg County,” Kidd said.

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 have said.

The school 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 that CMS would need $10 million more than the county is proposing to hit the 3 percent mark.

The school board will work with incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison to revise the CMS budget plan based on what the district gets from the county and state.

Other speakers asked for continued support of their programs or for additional services.

Martha Brinsko, a nurse practitioner with the Charlotte Community Health Clinic, thanked the board for their funding in 2011-12– the first year they received money from the county. Brinsko then asked for an increase in funding in the coming year for staffing.

“We were very good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. One of the most important things we do at the clinic is to take care of chronic disease,” Brinsko said, adding that strokes, heart attacks and other chronic illnesses are financial and social burdens.

Teri Saurer, whose five-year-old daughter has epilepsy and food allergies, spoke about lack of funding for school nurses.

“During one seizure, she turned blue as she struggled for air,” said Saurer. “… That feeling of fear is something a parent of allergies endures daily. Please renew your commitment to this very important health matter.”

Commissioners will vote on the budget June 5.

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