The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education will vote Tuesday, Jan. 25, on the first round of cuts to next year’s budget, including changes to bell schedules at more than 150 schools that could mean up to a 90-minute shift in class time.
While the schedule changes would be far-reaching, they have not drawn much public backlash from north Mecklenburg County parents and educators.
“The bell schedule shift doesn’t bother me at all,” parent Karyn Porter said, “But I don’t want one more teacher out of the classroom.”
Porter has two children at Cornelius Elementary and one at Bailey Middle.
Torrence Creek Elementary parent Karen Munson has two daughters – Ruby, in second grade, and Blair, in kindergarten. For her, like Porter, the logistics of a bell schedule shift are not her primary concern. Her children take the bus to school and would continue to do so, so the family’s daily routine would not be disrupted.
But she is not sure the youngest students, like Blair, would be able to handle the extended day. “Seven hours seems like a long day for a five-year-old,” she said.
Porter, a transitional kindergarten teacher at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, agrees that a full day is “exhausting” for kindergarteners, as many are not developmentally ready for such a rigorous schedule.
At the same time, older students could benefit from additional time in the classroom with their teachers.
“I think the bell schedule change is going to be a positive one,” Blythe Elementary School Principal Patti Johansen said. “So many times, in our planning sessions, we say, ‘if only we had more time.’”
While both parents agree that some questions remain to be answered, both say their primary concern is with the potential loss of teacher and teacher assistant positions.
“When I was in school, we didn’t have assistants, but we weren’t as large as Torrence Creek,” Munson said. “As large of a school as it is, you need extra eyes or ears to help out.”
Torrence Creek operates well above capacity, with around 1200 students and 23 mobile classroom units in use.
“What we really need to educate our children are teachers, text books and buildings,” Porter said.
“My goal is to eliminate cuts to teacher positions,” School Board Member Rhonda Lennon said, “and if the bell schedule shift can save $4 million,” she said, “that’s 80 to 100 teacher jobs.”
It’s that sort of math – cutting funds from one service to supplement another – that Lennon and other board members would like defined more concretely prior to voting Tuesday.
“We want to know what would be the first thing to come back,” Lennon said. “For example, if we find a way to cut $10 million from somewhere else, would that allow us to prevent (increasing class sizes) by 2 students?”
The potential cuts in teaching positions, combined with the possible two-student increase in class size, is particularly disconcerting for Lennon.
In addition to the bell schedule shifts, the board also will vote Tuesday on reductions to weighted student staffing, which assigns more resources to students in high-poverty schools so that they receive more help in the classroom. The Bright Beginnings pre-K program may also be cut by up to 63 percent.
Lennon is in favor of the proposed reduction to weighted student staffing, but would like to see it reduced even more.
“The suburban schools took the biggest hit from weighted student staffing,” Lennon said.
While Gorman’s recommendation for next year is to reduce the per-pupil weight from 1.3 to 1.25, she would like to see the weighted student staffing numbers at 1.2 or below, she said.
Though not up for a vote Tuesday, Lennon also would like to discuss further magnet school transportation. Gorman did not recommend cutting magnet busing in his Jan. 11 presentation – a cut that could save between $5 and $9 million – but he said that if state and federal funding cuts are more severe, that transportation item would need to be revisited.
“Why take money away from every other child for such a small percentage of students?” Cornelius Elementary parent Karyn Porter said.
Magnet transportation costs significantly more per student, so if staff members choose to continue magnet busing, Lennon said, she wants to find other ways to “neutralize that additional cost” and have agnet schools share the budget burdens in some other way.
Board members continue to have discussions about the budget and are looking for creative, ideas to preserve funding and programs wherever possible, Lennon said.
“The board members are all equally concerned and equally committed to finding creative ways to cut the least amount (from programs and teaching positions) that we can,” Lennon said. “We’re trying everything.”
Key dates set for CMS 2011-12 budget work
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education plans budget discussions and work sessions as follows:
• Jan. 25, during Board of Education meeting, Government Center room 267, 6 p.m.
• Feb. 15, Government Center room 267, 12:30 to 3 p.m.
• March 15, Government Center room 267, 12:30 to 3 p.m.
• March 22, during Board of Education meeting, Government Center room 267, 6 p.m.
• April 27, Government Center room 267, 12:30 to 3 p.m.
Other key dates:
• April 12, Board of Education meeting, Government Center, 6 p.m. CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman will make budget presentations to the board.
• April 26, Board of Education meeting, Government Center, 6 p.m. There will be a public hearing on the budget.
• May 10, Board of Education meeting, Government Center, 6 p.m. The board votes on the proposed budget.
All budget meetings will be televised live on CMS TV3. Video of the meetings will also be posted on the 2011-2012 Budget Information section on the CMS website.
The school board and schools staff invites the public to submit budget suggestions and ideas via e-mail, to budget
email@example.com. For more information, visit www.cms.k12.nc.us.