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CMS leaders celebrate 4% raises and a timely budget, but say it’s not enough

Students at Carmel Middle School returned to in-person classes this week.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
CMS teachers will get raises averaging 4.2%, plus a 5% bump in the local supplement.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board unanimously approved a $2.3 billion budget Tuesday that includes 4% salary hikes and increases in hourly pay.

The General Assembly approved higher raises than the district anticipated when it began planning the budget last spring, and CMS also used local and federal money to supplement pay.

“This goes a long way in paying teachers and staff what they’re worth and what they deserve, but it’s not all the way,” board member Rhonda Cheek said. “So this does not end our advocacy to make sure that our staff is paid what they need to be paid.”

School administrators and central office staff got 4% raises, while teacher pay will go up an average of 4.2%. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said that ranges from “over 7%” for beginning teachers to as low as 2.5%, depending on where they fall on the pay scale.

CMS is also using county money to boost the local teacher supplement by 5%. The board had hoped for a 10% increase, but county commissioners did not approve as much as the board sought.

According to the budget presentation, CMS is using state and federal money to boost hourly pay for teacher assistants and secretaries to a minimum of $16.50, with county money going toward market adjustments for campus security staff, transportation technicians and delivery drivers.

The influx of federal COVID-19 relief money pushes the budget total to $2.3 billion, though some of that will carry over into the following budget year.

“Just like last year, at many of our schools, federal COVID-funded positions have been allocated to help maintain staffing levels that are actually higher than what our enrollment-driven formulas would have generated,” Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said. “But as you all know, staffing continues to be a challenge for many of our schools.”

Shirley spent a good bit of her presentation detailing “the funding gap” created when county commissioners approved a $558 million budget for CMS. That’s an increase of $20 million, but CMS had presented a plan based on a $40 million increase.

That meant CMS couldn’t follow through on plans to use county money to hire 20 additional social workers, counselors and psychologists and 32 additional teachers to work with immigrant students who are learning English. But Shirley said the district has added 82 people to provide social and emotional support using COVID-19 relief money and about 15 English learner teachers using state money.

Shirley, who has been creating budgets for CMS for more than 20 years, said she was delighted that the General Assembly passed a budget in July. The state provides about half the district’s operating budget and determines most pay scales. Last year, the session adjourned in January without a budget agreement, which left CMS to approve its budget based on the prior year’s state plan.

“It has been so many years since we’ve been able to approve a budget in August,” she said.

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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.