County board questions teacher raises
by Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools should have been more upfront about plans for county-appropriated money last year, county officials say. School board members contend the county shouldn’t mandate how school money is spent.
The Board of County Commissioners allotted the school system $335 million, placing $18.5 million of that in a restricted contingency fund.
At a Wednesday, June 6, Board of Education meeting, board member Eric Davis publicly blasted the Board of County Commissioners for restricting how the school system budget can be spent. School officials will be allowed to use the restricted $18.5 million only after they show commissioners evidence they plan to use it to give school employees a 3 percent pay raise.
“We chose (to appropriate the money) this way because there is little to no trust between the county and CMS, based on history where they have promoted to use the money they have requested one way and then used it another way,” said commissioner Karen Bentley, who represents north Mecklenburg County.
Bentley said school officials may have created a scare campaign during last year’s budget negotiations by claiming that an expected $70 million decrease in money from the state would lead to more than 700 teacher layoffs. The state decreased funding by only $40 million, and the county voted to increase funding an additional $26 million from the previous year, saving hundreds of teacher jobs.
The school district’s budget situation, Bentley said, may not have been as dire as school officials presented to commissioners and the public last year. When school officials approached commissioners about paying for raises for the district’s more than 18,000 employees this year, commissioners said they wanted to make sure that’s what the money would go toward.
“Every year it’s been all about how they were going to have to lay hundreds of teachers off,” Bentley said. “Then, before it was even finalized, they were giving each other high-fives because they were getting extra money from the state.”
But Davis said he finds the funding restrictions deplorable. At the June 6 school board meeting, he blamed a budget process that forces both the county and school district to approve a budget before either knows how much money the state will vote to allot.
The uncertainty creates unfortunate tension during annual budget negotiations, Davis said.
“I think the real problem we have is we have a flawed process,” he said. “One in which we are required to make assumptions and prepare a budget without knowing what our funders will provide.“
So far the N.C. House has voted to give the district $31 million more than the upcoming budget anticipated, but the state Senate has yet to vote on the allocation.
Davis also questioned how the school system could prove it plans to increase pay when it hasn’t yet been provided with the money to do so.
The county manager is looking for a “legally, verified document,” Bentley said, that says the school board plans to provide raises.
During budget negotiations, Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh and school board member pointed out that budget concerns have forced the district to freeze pay for three years. The county’s budget includes an average 3 percent merit raise for county employees. Hattabaugh emailed district employees earlier this month saying the school district is researching the potential consequences of accepting restricted funds and to hold off on celebrating raises.
The county, Davis said, could do a better job at showing teachers that they care.
“In a town where we repeatedly find ways to fund baseball stadiums, whitewater centers and halls of fame and other very good and sound public (projects), look at what we go through when we just ask for a modest, well-deserved percent increase for our staff,” Davis said.