CMS makes budget recommendations to cut $100 million

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter C. Gorman unveiled recommendations to cut $100 million from the district’s 2011-2012 operating budget at the Jan. 11 meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.

The cuts include reducing by more than half the number of Bright Beginnings pre-kindergarten classes, eliminating teacher assistants in first and second grades, and increasing class sizes by two students in grades four through 12. The proposed cuts include transportation changes that could also affect some schools’ start times.

The changes would shrink the district’s work force by 1,516 positions. Together, the proposed cuts add up to just over $100 million.

Addressing the Board Jan. 11, Gorman said that it had been difficult to make the recommendation because it could affect student achievement in CMS. “None of us wants to make these cuts,” Gorman said. “But we have to. So we’ve approached this challenge by asking ourselves: What will do the least harm? We can’t have larger classes, fewer teachers, fewer electives and less pre-kindergarten preparation without affecting student achievement.” The cuts come after the district has reduced or redirected $185 million since the 2007-2008 budget year. The cuts are necessary because of anticipated declines in state and local funding – the two primary sources for the CMS operating budget.

In addition, federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has sent the states nearly $38 billion since 2008, is ending. Thirty-five states are projecting budget gaps, with 21 – including North Carolina — anticipating gaps of 10 percent or more. North Carolina’s preliminary budget estimate shows a gap of $3.7 billion.

The state has asked all areas, including education, to plan for a budget reduction ranging from five to 15 percent. For CMS, a five percent cut in state funding would be $52 million; 10 percent is $93 million and 15 percent is $125 million. If Mecklenburg County offers a similar reduction, those amounts could increase.

The district’s operating budget for 2010-2011 was $1.1 billion.

CMS is making the budget recommendation earlier than usual because some of the changes will affect students and CMS employees. Gorman asked the Board to make decisions on those changes by Jan. 25.

Among the cuts requiring an early decision is the district’s recommendation to change the weighted-student staffing formula from 1.3 to 1.25, which would reduce the number of teachers. Weighted-student staffing assigns a larger weight to students in poverty, because they require more resources to keep up with other students. Weighted-student staffing allows the funding to follow the students, which can mean more resources and more teachers for high-poverty schools.

A second recommendation requiring an early decision is proposed changes in bell schedules, which would allow the district to use its buses more effectively. Gorman told the Board that these changes should be made early so families can make adjustments and the transportation department can design new bus routes.

A third recommendation would reduce the number of Bright Beginnings classes to 70 from 175. An early decision would allow affected families to plan, and would also give other preschool providers time to expand their programs to address the increased need.

Gorman also told the Board that he and executive staff are looking at possibly eliminating all transportation for students at magnet schools. This change would need an early decision, he said, because more than 12,000 families with students in magnet programs would be affected.

The Board is expected to vote on the proposals at its next meeting, which is Jan. 25.