'Our kids need us'

Citing school safety and equity in education as key issues, Dr. Clayton Wilcox released his proposed 2018-2019 budget on April 10, seeking $39.8 million in additional funding from Mecklenburg County as part of a $1.5 billion operating budget.

"Our budget is statement of what we value and of our priorities," Dr. Wilcox said. "We value our kids. All of them. This budget is for our kids, for the children of this community, who need and deserve access to opportunities."

Dr. Wilcox's proposed budget identifies four key areas he wants to address: safe schools, great educators, strong support and positive learning spaces.

"Our kids need us," he said. "There has been a clear call for change from the Opportunity Task Force and the Leading on Opportunity Council. There's a sense of urgency about increasing access to opportunity for our kids."

Dr. Wilcox pointed to the economic mobility study that put Charlotte 50th out of 50 cities, as well as the district's own Breaking the Link report that highlighted a lack of equity between schools in CMS. All of it has converged to focus community attention on the need for more equity, including in schools, he said. The four areas identified in his budget will improve children's educational experiences and increase access to opportunity.

To promote safe schools, he is asking for $5 million in county funding to provide additional counselors, social workers and psychologists, as well as five police officers, two locksmiths, two electronics specialists and training with local law enforcement. He is also requesting about $9 million in capital funding (rather than operating) to strengthen security at schools. The capital money would be spent on hardening doors, adding fencing and locks, and expanding surveillance.

In the second key area – great educators – he is asking for a seven percent increase in the county supplement rate to keep the district competitive in hiring. It would cost an additional $6.9 million and is the first rate increase since 2012. He is also seeking $11.02 million as the county's share of an estimated three percent salary increase for administrative and non-certified staff, and seven percent for certified staff. To address the additional funding for enhancement teachers in House Bill 90, which would pay for arts, physical and health education, and world languages teachers, he is asking for $784,543. Dr. Wilcox's budget proposal also includes $317,314 to cover the county's portion of staffing costs for one new elementary school and two repurposed schools opening next year; $1.5 million for 20 English Learner teachers; and $500,000 for cultural proficiency training.

"All of this will help us provide the best educators for our kids," he said.

To provide strong support for students, Dr. Wilcox is seeking $3.8 million from the county for instructional applications, $455,856 for the Advancement Via Individual Determination program and $300,000 for a digital platform for guidance counseling.

The fourth area is positive learning spaces. To ensure schools are safe, well-equipped and clean, Dr. Wilcox is asking for $1.8 million to add 46 custodians districtwide and $605,433 for 11 custodians and three pest control specialists at the new and repurposed sites.

"This will not only help our students," he said. "It will also protect the significant public investment in school buildings."

Dr. Wilcox said that his budget was a call to action for the whole community. "Our kids need us," he said. "Our community is at a crossroads today. This budget call to action is a call to choose the best path, the one that will help our kids and strengthen our entire community."

CMS launched a budget information website at ourkidsneedus.org to open access to the proposed budget to the community and create opportunities for feedback and questions. "Our kids need us to share information and empower the community with knowledge about the budget and how it will help support student achievement. We look forward to community input, questions and sharing from this new platform," says CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education will vote on the budget in May. The county will vote on its budget in June. To see the complete budget presentation, click here.