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CMS Seeks $26.5M Increase In County Money Despite COVID Aid Boosting Budget

Ann Doss Helms

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will ask county commissioners for an additional $26.5 million in local money, despite an infusion of federal COVID-19 relief money.

CMS expects to get $446 million in COVID relief money that can be spent over the next couple of years. That’s a lot of money, even in a $2 billion budget. But Superintendent Earnest Winston told the board that money comes with a surge in need and a lot of rules.

"Temporary COVID funding carries with it restrictions on how and when it must be used," he said. "We must apply COVID funding, for example, to challenges caused by or related to the pandemic."

For instance, the federal relief money will pay for a six-week summer school to help almost 30,000 students make up for pandemic setbacks. Some of the federal aid has yet to be distributed to CMS, and Winston said he plans a series of public engagement sessions to figure out the best long- and short-term projects to fund.

CMS is asking the county for $551 million to cover ongoing costs, including staff raises that will be set by state lawmakers. That's $26.5 million more than the district got this year, an increase of about 5%.

The request includes almost $4 million to hire 29 new social workers and 10 more psychologists, along with other support for students’ mental health needs. Board Chair Elyse Dashew said CMS keeps coming back with that type of request because the district remains so far below nationally recommended staffing levels.

According to the budget, the recommended level is one social worker for every 250 students. Even if all the new positions are funded, CMS would have an estimated 1,400 students per social worker next year, compared with more than 1,500 new.

"They were grossly overtaxed before the pandemic. It will be even more so now," Dashew said. "Regardless of federal funding, regardless of COVID, that was a need that continues to be a need."

Board member Sean Strain cast the only vote against the budget plan, saying he isn’t convinced the money addresses the most important academic goals. CMS will take its request to county commissioners next week.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.