CMS budget emphasizes technology, choice

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools unveiled its proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year. The budget proposal, presented at the April 9 meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, identifies greater academic choices for students, increased capacity for technology and enhanced professional learning as key areas of focus. View the superintendent's 2013-14 proposed budget presentation.

Dr. Heath E. Morrison, the superintendent of CMS, emphasized that the budget was developed with extensive public input about district priorities gathered from town hall meetings and surveys.

“Our students, their parents and the public in general were very clear that more choice and better technology support were important to them and our financial planning incorporated those priorities,” he said. “We want to prepare our children for 21st century workplaces, and we want to honor the contribution of our teachers by providing them the technology tools and training they need to prepare students for the 21st century.”

The district is proposing to expand choice for students by offering a wider variety of programs and making them widely accessible. This would include the creation of new magnet programs as well as the expansion of existing high-demand magnet programs, the district’s Career and Technical Education programs and its partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.

CMS is also seeking to increase access to technology at all schools, including mobile classrooms, and provide teacher training in new technology and tools, as well as in the Common Core standards.

“It is our privilege and our responsibility to prepare our students for a bright future and to ensure they are ready for whatever post-secondary option they choose,” said Dr. Morrison. “We cannot afford to stand still, to only maintain the same level of programs and services. To provide the education to our students that they need and that the community wants, we must move forward. We believe our proposed budget for 2013-2014 strikes the right balance between current economic realities at local, state and federal levels and the need for continued educational progress.” 

The largest investment the district is seeking for new initiatives is in technology, including technology tools for teachers, mobile technology labs for students’ use, projection systems for classrooms and expanded wireless access for the mobile classrooms in use at many schools.

The district is also seeking to expand choice options and programs for students. Adding more choice and innovative programs, including increasing Career and Technical Education options and early college opportunities, will provide more individualized education options and better prepare students for post-secondary experience. CMS also plans to strengthen its focus and commitment to college-level coursework by fully funding exam and certification fees for all students who participate in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Career and Technical Education choices.

Another initiative is linked to professional learning opportunities which will focus on technology integration for 21st  century teaching and learning and the Common Core standards.

The district also wants to strengthen and organize its partnerships with business, houses of worship and other organizations.

“These partnerships are assets in our community that we want to leverage to help our students – and so we are planning to asset-map the needs of our students with the resources our partners can provide to support their success,” Dr. Morrison said.

Also in the district’s proposed budget is a one percent raise for CMS employees who were not included in the governor’s budget proposal. The governor proposed a one percent raise for all state-funded employees. CMS supports a raise for every district employee and has added $2.2 million to its proposed budget to extend the raise to employees who are not state-funded. The total cost of a one percent raise for all CMS employees is more than $7.9 million.

“We will continue to advocate for salary increases that strengthen our ability to retain and reward our hard-working employees, despite fiscal uncertainties,” Dr. Morrison said.  “We will take on the challenge of reprioritizing our budget request should the state legislature support a higher salary increase for employees.”

The total proposed budget is $1.2 billion, with about $136 million expected in federal funding, $716 million expected in state funding and $366 million in county funding. Special and other revenues are estimated at $19 million.

In presenting the proposed budget to the Board of Education, Morrison and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley emphasized the heightened uncertainty of funding this year. Each year, CMS creates a proposed budget based on indications and informed estimates, rather than actual numbers, because the county and state budget deadlines fall much later than the district’s. But this year is particularly uncertain, they noted, because of specific events at each level.

The federal government has said the sequester will reduce the money districts receive but it is not clear how much; the range provided thus far is from four to 10 percent. It’s also not clear if the reductions will be applied equally in all categories of federal money or only in some of them. Federal funding accounted for 12 percent of the 2012-2013 budget.

At the state level, there is also uncertainty. State funding is the largest part of the district’s budget – 58 percent in 2012-2013.The governor’s proposed budget increases the number of teachers to keep up with the increasing number of students in North Carolina, but also calls for reductions in the ranks of teacher assistants. CMS has not received any definitive indication from the state yet about whether state funding will stay flat, decline or increase next year.

The local funding picture is equally uncertain. Local funding accounted for 28 percent of the district’s operating budget last year. The county revenue picture has been clouded by property revaluation issues, which may affect county spending.

There are other factors that affect the CMS budget, as well. District enrollment is expected to grow again in 2013-2014, as it has nearly every year in recent memory. District projections show 2,665 new students are expected. More students will increase district costs, as will increases in certain mandatory costs the district incurs each year. These include areas such as utilities, fuel, security, health and unemployment insurance and retirement contributions. In all, the district’s proposed budget includes $17.5 million in county funding to cover the costs of growth and sustaining operations.