by Tori Hamby
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education approved and sent its 2011-12 budget request to county commissioners, which seeks an extra $50 million to save more than 1,000 teaching, teaching assistant and support staff positions and several Bright Beginnings pre-Kindergarten classes.
At the board’s meeting, Tuesday, May 10, board members voted 5-4 to approve the request, with members Rhonda
Lennon, Kaye McGarry, Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath dissenting. If the county commissioners grant the board’s request for the additional $50 million, the money could fund the final five items listed on Superintendent Peter Gorman’s list of potential budget cuts, which includes:
•Many of the district’s 80 Bright Beginnings and pre-kindergarten classes.
•400 teaching assistants and 164 support positions (one at each school).
•Extra staff for schools with a high percentage of needy students. School officials refer to this as “weighted-student” staffing and determine that support based on the percentage of students receiving free or discounted lunches
•Reducing current class sizes in the fourth through 12th grades.
Lennon, who represents schools in Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius, said the school system should take responsibility for making its own cuts instead of forcing the county to make important funding decisions.
“It’s up to us to make the tough decisions and not pass the buck,” Lennon said. “I don’t get to tell my employer how much I need each week. He tells me, and I make it work with my bills”
Board member Trent Merchant said that the request provides the county with an accurate assessment of the district’s needs.
“I think we’re doing our job here by putting the request out, and being honest about what our needs are,” Merchant said. “I look forward to working with out colleagues in the county to see what we can come up with to do what’s right for our children.”
During a public input session, parents and community leaders voiced their commitment to continue to lobby county commissioners to take advantage of this year’s property revaluation. Unless county commissioners lower the current tax rate, the majority of property owners will pay higher tax bills because the assessed value of their property has increased in the past eight years, the last time the county revalued property.
Others, including Doug Swaim, co-chairman of MeckFuture, a grassroots organization formed to encourage the county to use extra revaluation revenue to fund schools, said they also have encouraged the N.C. General Assembly to extend the one-cent sales tax that is currently used to help fund schools. A budget proposal, passed by the N.C. House earlier this month, would repeal the tax.
An amendment, proposed by member-at-large McGarry, also sparked intense debate about Gorman’s controversial Pay For Performance plan. McGarry asked the board to shelve the plan, which would evaluate and compensate all district employees based on their performance, as measured by standardized test scores, student surveys and classroom observations. She said any money that can be taken from the $3.5 million budgeted this year to pay for the plan should be used to keep teachers in the classroom.
“A budget is a reflection of your priorities, and your priorities should be teachers, No. 1, McGarry told the board.
However, she said she does not agree with many of plan’s opponents and thinks the board should return to the plan when the district is not in such a dire financial straits.
“The ill-will that they have created cannot be healthy for district,” McGarry said, referring the plan’s more vehemently outspoken opponents.
The amendment failed when five members, including Lennon, voted to continue with the performance-pay plan. While board members should re-examine the plan, shelving it would not be the best option, Lennon said.
If you’re lost on vacation with your family, you don’t “turn around and go home,” she said. “You pull off the road and do a little research.”