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CMS may seek $17 million from the county to boost pay for teachers and assistants

Ann Doss Helms

Superintendent Earnest Winston outlined a proposal Tuesday to seek an additional $11 million in county money to boost teacher pay in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. His budget presentation said that money would increase the local supplement by 10%, making it the highest in North Carolina.

Also on the table is a request for $6 million to increase the minimum wage for CMS teacher assistants from $15 an hour to $16.50.

So far nothing is locked in. Winston will give the board his proposal on March 23, and the board will make a request to Mecklenburg County commissioners in May.

North Carolina sets the salary scale for teachers, but most districts add to that. For instance, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience gets about $40,500 a year from the state. CMS adds about $6,800.

At 25 years of experience, the state pay is $52,680 a year and CMS adds just over $10,000. Salaries can go up with advanced degrees, national board certification or working extra months.

Wake County, the only North Carolina district bigger than CMS, has a similar pay scale, though teachers with bachelor's degrees generally make $100 to $300 more per year in Wake, depending on their experience level.

Adding to the local pay is viewed as a way to attract top educators in a fiercely competitive environment. But county commissioners have traditionally questioned the wisdom of carrying too much of the burden when teacher pay should be a state responsibility.

State raises for the coming year average 2.7%, including across-the-board raises approved this fall and bumps that come with accumulated experience.

Budget talks between the CMS board and county commissioners often get contentious. Last year, the two bodies resorted to mediation to settle differences.

This year's budget picture is complicated by the addition of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid. CMS leaders say that money will be targeted to help students make up academic ground lost during the pandemic. But it's not going to last forever. That means if it's used to pay salaries, CMS will eventually have to let those people go or find new money for the jobs.

For instance, this year CMS used COVID-19 money to hire additional social workers, psychologists and other staff to help students cope with the stress of the pandemic.

"We do have to be cognizant of the cliff," board Chair Elyse Dashew said Tuesday. "I mean, our schools, we're going to get comfortable with these additional positions and then they are going to go away. And hopefully, the community and our funders will see fit to bring them back and fund them if they prove to be worthwhile."

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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.