CORNELIUS – The Montessori component on Huntersville’s Long Creek Elementary campus is set to open this fall under the name Trillium Springs Montessori School, which was approved April 22 by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education.
Board documents state the name was picked because trillium is a North Carolina indigenous flower and has leaves of three, which the committee felt linked with the Montessori three-pronged approach. Also on the agenda was to change Mountain Island Elementary School to Mountain Island Lake Academy to reflect the change in grade levels.
School Board member and Cornelius resident Rhonda Lennon presented the Trillium name change and other school news to Cornelius commissioners on April 21, after speaking to the Huntersville board.
The school board is set to present its requested budget to the county, which asks for an additional $46.2 million compared to last year’s Mecklenburg County appropriation of $356 million. The $402 million is a portion of the county's nearly $1.3 billion projected budget.
“The board of education has a unique budget process,” said Lennon. “We submit our proposal to the county manager May 8, but 65 percent of our total budget depends on what comes out of Raleigh. But [legislators] go into session the following week.”
The majority of the additional requested amount, $26.7 million, could provide raises for all CMS employees to strengthen retention, morale and recruitment.
Lennon presented that 83 percent of employees are Mecklenburg County residents, 59 percent of CMS employees earn less than the living wage and that the state ranks 46th for average teacher salaries yet, staff have only had one raise in the last five years. While Mecklenburg County does have higher teacher supplements than other counties, Lennon said, they still can’t compete with neighboring states.
“We are below South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee,” Lennon said of salaries, adding they commonly lose teachers to South Carolina. “I’m kind of a budget bulldog, but I have come out and endorsed the entire budget this year because of the critical need to our staff.”
Another $8.5 million is requested to handle student growth. When asked about overcrowding, Lennon said expanding Davidson Elementary to K-8 and replacing J.M Alexander Middle would help as well as repurposing old buildings. Among the possible options are to take a 10-classroom building at J.M. Alexander to form a mini middle school. The Montessori magnet addition will also relieve some overcrowding.
Lennon noted they have seen a decrease in fourth- through sixth-graders because of charter schools, but they return for high school.
“Students in charter schools want to get into comprehensive high schools like Hough because of the awesome facility,” Lennon said. “They come back in eighth grade to be ready for ninth at Hough. The Bailey eighth grade is huge. We saw growth at all of the schools.”
The school board is also making a push for more technology and career-oriented initiatives. Opportunities include a technology initiative and a new AVID program at Hough High School, the career technology education offerings at North Mecklenburg High, the middle college program and the new early college partnership with NNC Charlotte, among other programs.
They are also increasing literacy for youth, especially high-risk third graders, and hoping to partner with the Davidson-based Eliminate the Digital Divide to get every family a laptop computer.
“We need more academic choices for the workforce of tomorrow even though we don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Lennon said.
Cornelius Commissioner Woody Washam questioned what the Mooresville Graded School District does differently to help its budget. Lennon said they have a smaller number of students on free and reduced lunch, have less students and a tighter transportation grid.
Lennon said she was elected to represent all of the county system as it is now and doesn’t foresee it being split in the near future.
Additional meetings will be held at the county level to discuss the school’s funding request before the county budget is approved in June.