Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CMS presents budget scenarios to Board of Education

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
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.