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CMS board endorses “timid” budget request

Members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education said Superintendent Ann Clark’s recommended budget is “lean,” “timid,” and “bare bones” — but they voted 8-1 last week to forward it along to Mecklenburg County commissioners, who still may reject it in favor of a smaller spending plan.

Clark’s budget requests an additional $23 million from the county, which would bring CMS’ total request to $425 million. That would be a 5.6 percent increase over last year. County leaders have not given CMS as much money as the district requested in the last several budget cycles, and commissioners have indicated they would be more inclined to support an increase of somewhere between $5 million and $11 million this year.

“I’ll support this very reluctantly because we’re in a box,” board member Eric Davis said, calling on parents to lobby commissioners to help avoid the budget standoff between CMS and the county that seems to occur every year.

“I’d go beyond saying it’s a lean budget request,” said Vice Chair Elyse Dashew. “I think it’s a timid budget request.”

Clark’s budget calls for an additional $3.4 million for “sustaining operations” such as increased costs due to changes in transportation plans, $9.9 million to fund the local portion of an anticipated 3 percent state-mandated raise, and $8.4 million that passes through CMS’ books and is distributed to local charter schools.

Historically, the district has asked commissioners to understand that while CMS has to request the charter school funding, it keeps none of it. If Mecklenburg County were to allocate $11 million — the high end of some funding formulas being considered — that would actually leave less than $3 million for the district after it meets its obligations to charter schools.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart voted against the plan. “We are not asking our county to fund all that our students need to be academically successful and socially and emotionally supported, and for this reason I will not be supporting the superintendent’s recommended budget this year,” she said.

Clark is also asking the county to endorse an $805 million bond referendum for November’s ballot. (CMS needs commissioners’ approval to put the measure in front of voters.) The package would fund repairs and renovations along with new construction. County leaders planned on a school bond referendum next year, and have been reluctant to change their timetable. Many commissioners say the board has to balance spending on education with other key priorities, while also avoiding a property tax increase.

The county manager will unveil her recommended budget on May 26, and commissioners will vote on their spending plan in June.

Between now and then, the General Assembly will fine-tune the biennial state budget, which could affect the CMS priorities. Clark’s budget assumes a 3 percent raise for school employees, requiring a nearly $10 million local match. If state lawmakers decided they wanted to do more than that, CMS would have to shuffle funds around to provide the local match.

Now that the White House has said it will not push to withhold federal funds from North Carolina over House Bill 2 — which could have meant significant losses for Pre-K programming in CMS — the state budget question is the biggest piece of uncertainty the district faces.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.