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CMS Teachers Get Back Pay As School Board OKs Belated Budget

CMS budget packet
Ann Doss Helms
CMS approved its 2019-20 budget Tuesday, that includes teacher raises.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved a 2019-20 budget Tuesday that includes teacher raises averaging 3%. The vote came more than halfway through the fiscal year, delayed by the deadlock between the state’s Democratic governor and Republican-led General Assembly.

The vote falls during the week CMS teachers are scheduled to get back pay to make those raises retroactive to July 1, when the budget year began. But the overall raises are less than either the governor or lawmakers had proposed.

The state standoff, which centered on Medicaid expansion, left lingering uncertainty about the funding source for more than half of CMS’s $1.6 billion operating budget. The school board has been approving spending in bits and pieces since fall.

The General Assembly also approved several "mini-budgets," but they adjourned in mid-January without creating a full budget that the governor would sign -- or getting enough Senate votes to override the governor's veto. Where there's no new budget in place, spending reverts to the last approved budget.

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley says Tuesday’s vote signals the belief that this is as clear as things are going to get.

"At this point we’re just basically putting a bow on our final budget, but we did want to bring closure to it so that we can start on our next budget," she said.

The state approved only the “step raises” that some teachers get based on an additional year of experience. CMS added county money approved to boost the local supplement, which means local teachers are getting anywhere from 1% to 8%, depending on their experience.

Shirley says teachers started getting those raises in December. This week's paycheck should include retroactive raise payments, she said.

Employees who aren't on the teacher pay scale got 3% raises, with the minimum hourly wage raised to $13.22. The state approved a new pay scale for principals, whose raises in CMS average 6.8%.

North Carolina's school districts don't have taxing authority, so officials always have to plan a budget based on their best estimate of what state and county officials will provide. Ideally both budgets are approved before the July 1 start of the budget year, but North Carolina's has landed as late as October in past years. Shirley has worked on CMS budgets for 19 years, and she says she's never seen one go unresolved like this.

The uncertainty isn't just a headache for the finance staff. Shirley says it delayed the hiring of  72 new jobs involving social and emotional health -- people like school counselors, social workers and psychologists. It's hard to make a job offer when you can't give solid answers about salaries and benefits, Shirley said.

"That's the most frustrating part of not having a budget as early as you would like, is not being able to move forward with some of the initiatives that you had intended to put in place," Shirley said.