Board of Education examines budget-cutting options

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education held a work session on the budget March 30, with two major areas of discussion. District staff announced a plan to reorganize the learning communities for next year and asked for guidance on eight budget-cutting opportunities.

Final budget numbers for the district are not yet available, but CMS has set a target amount for reductions in the 2010-2011 budget of $73.6 million, the superintendent and chief financial officer said.

“This number includes an assumption – and right now, that’s all it is – that our county cut will be 6.5 percent and our state reduction will be 4 percent, ” Dr. Peter C. Gorman told the Board.

Ann Clark, the district’s chief academic officer, presented a plan for the learning communities that will create five zones, instead of the current six geographic areas and the Achievement Zone. The plan will reduce learning community staffing from 55 positions to 30, with a total expected savings of $3.6 million.

Clark said that the district’s Title I department will be reorganized to provide supplemental support to Title I schools in alignment with the zones.

The new zones and their area superintendents are: Northeast Zone to be led by Scott Muri; East Zone, led by Joel Ritchie; Southwest Zone, led by Monique Gardner-Witherspoon; Central Elementary Zone, led by Tyler Ream and Central Secondary Zone, led by Curtis Carroll.

Under the reorganization, which takes effect July 1, the Title I department will support the Central Elementary and Secondary zones. Metro and Morgan schools will continue to be supervised by Dr. Jane Rhyne. The district’s pre-kindergarten centers will be assigned to the Central Elementary Zone and will be supervised by Ream.

District staff also reviewed the most recent budget scenarios with the Board.

“As of now, we have identified $66.7 million in cuts, so we need to find another $6.9 million,” Gorman said. “We are asking Board members to tell us whether they would support any of eight different cost-cutting measures.”

The first option discussed was cutting CMS-TV, the district’s television station, entirely. The Board asked for more information and directed staff to continue research on possible partnerships with the county and the city for a shared broadcast operation, as well as data about CMS TV viewership. Board Chair Eric C. Davis, who represents District 5, said he would also discuss it with the city and county.

A second option was a two-day furlough for all employees. The Board directed staff to pursue the possibility of a furlough aggressively with the North Carolina legislature. At present, the district does not have the authority to issue a furlough.

A third option was delaying the opening of two new high schools next year, Mint Hill High and W. A. Hough High. The Board did not support this option.

A fourth option was the addition of shuttle stops for elementary students who attend a magnet school. Citing concerns with student safety, the Board did not support this option.

A fifth option was closing some schools. The Board did not support this option, although some members noted that this was an issue that could be examined later.

A sixth option was reducing the formula used for weighted student staffing, which directs extra resources and staff to schools with high numbers of students in poverty or who are learning English. The Board did not support lowering the number used for weighted-student staffing.

A seventh option was additional staff reductions, to be accomplished by increasing the number of students per classroom, lowering the number of teachers and other staff needed. The Board did not support this option.

Finally, the Board discussed salary reductions. District staff advised the Board that such reductions raise legal issues. If the cuts are made for every employee, some CMS employees will fall below the state-required minimum wage. The number of such employees rises as the percentage of the cut increases. The Board did not support this option.

“The dollars are getting harder to find,” Dr. Gorman told the Board, echoing an earlier comment by a Board member that the last $7 million in cuts for next year will be more painful than the first $70 million.

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