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CMS hints at job cuts and reassignments as leaders craft 2024 budget

Guest teacher Kevin Hardwick works with his third-grade math class at Idlewild Elementary.
Ann Doss Helms
Kevin Hardwick was one of hundreds of guest teachers CMS has hired with federal money that will end this year. He's now a regular teacher at Idlewild Elementary.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools warned Wednesday that the end of federal COVID-19 aid could lead to job cuts and reassignments in the coming budget year.

In advance of a meeting with principals, CMS sent a statement noting that $60 million in federal money that’s going away in 2024 is “attached to people” and added that “the district is looking for ways not to reduce its workforce once the funding is gone.”

The statement added that the district may have to “realign roles and responsibilities of some staff.”

The so-called funding cliff is no surprise. Hundreds of millions of dollars of temporary federal aid poured in to help schools cope with the pandemic and its aftermath. CMS will lose a total of $190 million that’s in the current budget. Some federal money has been used for recruitment and retention bonuses and physical improvements such as better air filters. Some have been used to hire employees, including almost 500 guest teachers, or substitutes assigned to specific schools.

Superintendent Crystal Hill will present her preliminary plans to the school board and the public at a budget work session that starts at 4 p.m. Monday (find the agenda here and stream it from the board’s Facebook page). The school board issued a statement to news media Wednesday saying members would not discuss the budget until then.

CMS has two options to offset a drop in federal money: The state and the county. State legislators approved a two-year budget in the fall; they’re unlikely to make major changes in this year’s short session.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners’ Chair George Dunlap said Wednesday it’s too early to say whether commissioners will be receptive to a large increase in the CMS budget. Last year the county granted the district’s full request and took on significant debt for school construction when voters approved $2.5 billion in school bonds. It was a major change from previous years when the school board and commissioners often battled over spending and management of the district. Dunlap said the two boards now have “a much better working relationship.”

“I will say that the board (of commissioners) has expressed support for the current administration, but I can’t say what that looks like in terms of dollars,” Dunlap said.

Full CMS statement:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Dr. Crystal Hill and the CMS leadership team are planning for the expiration of $190 million in ESSER funding which has supported the district during and after the Covid 19 pandemic. On Monday, February 5, 2024, information will be shared with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education on how the loss of ESSER funding for CMS will impact the 2024-2025 budget. Approximately $60 million in ESSER funds is attached to people and the district is looking for ways not to reduce its workforce once the funding is gone.

“We may have to realign roles and responsibilities of some staff. We value the contributions of our employees and want to keep everyone employed,” stated Dr. Hill.

ESSER was intended to assist eligible public school units to address needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including making up for learning loss. This influx of funding was intended to help with a variety of projects including:

  • Lowering class size to allow students to safely distance themselves
  • Adjusting transportation to reduce the number of students in one confined space
  • Purchasing sanitation and cleaning supplies for the district
  • Making improvement to indoor air quality

The loss of ESSER funding will have a significant impact on the district. However, the goal is to minimize its effect on students and staff through efforts to stabilize and standardize -- reviewing management routines and service delivery models to schools.

As the planning continues, district leaders will rely on stakeholder input and keep the lines of communication open during this time of change. The budget tutorial reviewed by the Board during the retreat will be used to prepare for a Budget Workshop on Feb. 5.

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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.