CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ended up with a 2013-14 budget about $40 million bigger than last year’s total and almost $6 million above the plan approved in May.
The $1.24 billion budget the school board approved unanimously Tuesday represents a slight increase in per-pupil spending at the state, county and federal level, despite a summer of angst over cuts in spending for teachers, assistants and classroom supplies.
The state budget approved in July, which provides about 58 percent of the district’s operating money, provided more money but less flexibility than CMS officials had anticipated during their spring planning, Superintendent Heath Morrison said Tuesday.
While the cuts are real, he said, the state also provided extra money for specific purposes, such as career-technical education. That poses its own challenges, he said, because it means the district must hire specialized teachers for a school year that starts in less than two weeks.
“Those folks are hard to find anyway,” he said, because career-tech teachers need a blend of career-specific expertise and classroom skills.
Most of the increased spending goes toward enrollment growth and rising costs, especially for employee benefits such as retirement and health insurance, Morrison and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said.
The final budget makes no major changes in the new initiatives the board approved in May, including new magnets and other academic options and increases in classroom technology.
CMS plans to have Wi-Fi active in all school buildings when school opens, but wiring mobile units for Wi-Fi will be phased in. Decisions about which mobiles will get the capability first will be based on school poverty levels, the number of mobiles at the school and how long they’re anticipated to remain there. Some schools use mobile classrooms on a temporary basis while renovations are being done or a new school is being built nearby.
The state gave CMS a pleasant surprise when lawmakers provided money to pay the fees for students taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and career-tech exams. CMS had planned to use county money for those fees.
Morrison said the biggest disappointment remains the elimination of assistant jobs and the lack of employee raises. CMS avoided laying off assistants by leaving jobs unfilled and cutting hours for those who remain, but the cuts will make it tougher to meet state mandates for third-grade reading performance, Morrison said.
He said North Carolina’s frozen salaries and declining national rank for teacher pay remains a major challenge: “This is not a CMS issue. It’s a North Carolina issue, and it’s a bipartisan issue in my mind.”