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Mecklenburg County recommends half of CMS budget request

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would receive $11.3 million in additional funding from Mecklenburg County under the county manager’s recommended budget—about half what the school district requested.

County Manager Dena Diorio presented her $1.6 billion proposed spending plan to county commissioners last week. The 2.8 percent increase in funding for schools matches the proposed 2.8 percent increase in the overall county budget.

CMS had asked for $23 million from the county, which provides roughly a third of the district’s funding. Much of that money was allocated toward raises for staff and a pass-through for charter schools, which receive county money via CMS.

The district will be required to direct a little more than $8 million to charter schools in the upcoming year, based on enrollment growth projections. CMS executives and school board members have bristled at the notion that charter school funding is included in the district’s request from the county, rather than as a separate line item, even though CMS doesn’t keep that money.

Commissioners suggested the district will need to reallocate existing funds to pay for priorities, much like the county is doing in order to fund new initiatives.

Diorio’s budget does include spending on deferred maintenance for county-owned buildings, including schools. Under that proposal, CMS would receive about $18 million in the upcoming fiscal year to deal with aging infrastructure at schools. County commissioners have opposed a CMS request to put an $805 million school facilities bond on November’s ballot, saying they prefer to tackle the referendum next year.

The budget recommendation came two days after a tense two-hour meeting among county commissioners and the school board, in which commissioners scolded Superintendent Ann Clark, CMS staff and the school board members.

At that session, commissioners leveled a host of concerns at CMS—about the size of the budget request, the timing of the bond referendum proposal, and closing schools in 2010 to fill a budget shortfall.

Tensions between the county commission and the school board are nothing new, especially during budget season, and the “budget dance” of proposals from the district and the county is not uncommon. But the acrimony last week was a particularly public show of discord between the two bodies. In private conversations following the meeting, two school board members told me they were concerned that the tone of the meeting marked the beginning of a new era of difficulty between the county and its school district—one that will be difficult to overcome, even after budget are approved and implemented.

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.