CMS presents budget scenarios to Board of Education

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The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education held a budget work session March 16 at the Education Center. Dr. Peter Gorman, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and district staff presented a range of budget scenarios to the Board showing cuts ranging from $11 million to $80 million and a reduction in force that could be as few as 60 employees or more than 800.
Dr. Gorman also said that he has been advised by Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones that a $6.3 million reversion in funding for the current year’s budget is likely.

Dr. Gorman and Sheila Shirley, the district’s chief financial officer, told the Board that although final funding is still uncertain, the indicators are clear that cuts will be necessary.

The district receives slightly less than a third of its total operating funds from Mecklenburg County and about two-thirds from the state of North Carolina. Dr. Gorman told the Board that Jones, the county manager, has indicated to him that at least a 6.5 percent reduction in county funding is likely — $19.7 million in the operating budget and $1 million in the capital replacement budget.
On the state side, Shirley told the Board that the state is within $35 million of its projected revenues thus far, but that she is wary because of a one-time corporate tax collection that brought in an unexpected $272 million. That one-time addition could be masking a state shortfall that will be apparent by the end of the fiscal year June 30, she said – and she added that the last quarter of the year is the most risky and hardest to predict.

“I would like some direction from the Board today, looking at the scenarios,” Dr. Gorman said. He and district officials are working to prepare a budget to present to the Board April 13, he said, and need to know if the Board supports the general direction of the scenarios presented during the work session, or if a different direction is needed.
Board members indicated mixed support for the scenarios – several Board members said they didn’t want to make cuts in the teaching ranks — but acknowledged that the cuts were probably inevitable.
“I don’t like it,” said Coach Joe White, an at-large representative on the Board. “But we’re looking at finding $80 million and I’m not sure where else it is that you go.”

Other Board members expressed discomfort with some cuts and asked CMS staff to look at other options, such as across-the-board salary cuts to prevent a reduction in force, furloughs, school closures or consolidations, changes to magnet-school transportation and a change in the weighted-student staffing formula.
Several Board members also indicated that fewer state requirements would give CMS more flexibility to use innovation and creativity in coping with the funding reductions.

“Flexibility is what we need,” said Board Chairman Eric C. Davis, who represents District 5.
The scenarios, similar to the tiers that CMS used in last year’s budget process, give the district flexibility by allowing reductions to be considered in layers. As was the case in the 2009-2010 budget, the scenarios call for cuts to be made in central administration and support jobs first, with classroom cuts coming last.

“We can’t cut $80 million and completely spare our classrooms, particularly on top of the deep cuts we made for this year’s budget,” Dr. Gorman said. “We will feel these cuts in our schools.”
The full Board will meet again to discuss the budget on March 30.

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