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About 1,200 CMS jobs will vanish next year. Officials hope that won’t mean layoffs

CMS board Chair Stephanie Sneed and members Monty Witherspoon and Lisa Cline (l-r) discuss budget plans at Monday's work session.
Ann Doss Helms
CMS board Chair Stephanie Sneed (left) and members Monty Witherspoon and Lisa Cline discuss budget plans at Monday's work session.

Monday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board session on the coming year’s budget felt like an extraordinarily complicated math problem: How do you subtract $60 million in federal money that pays for 768 jobs from a $2 billion budget without laying anyone off?

The answer, in part, lies in 990 current vacancies. Superintendent Crystal Hill and her staff told the board they believe they can match people whose jobs are disappearing with jobs that need people in them.

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure that our employees stay employed in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” Hill told reporters after the three-and-a-half-hour budget session. “And we’re taking a look at their skills, their abilities, their licensure area, as well as their current salary and what would be the closest fit to what they’re currently in.”

The picture is complicated further by the fact that Hill plans to eliminate 411 teacher positions — positions she says mostly are unfilled — and use the money to fund new jobs that she thinks will push schools to meet the board’s academic goals.

Monday’s session was the first public look at the framework for a 2024-25 budget that incorporates the federal COVID-19 aid “funding cliff.” It also provided a look at how Hill, who started the superintendent’s job this summer, plans to meet the board’s goals for improving reading, math and college and career readiness.

There’s still a lot of work before Hill presents a budget plan to the board on March 26, but here’s what came out Monday:

The funding cliff

There’s $190 million in federal pandemic aid in the current budget that won’t be available next year, including the money to pay 768 people. More than 500 of those are guest teachers, or permanent subs assigned to schools. They get full-time pay and benefits.

The program was created to deal with pandemic-related staff shortages, which haven’t abated. Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kluttz said 63 of the guest teachers are actually certified teachers, who could either apply for regular teaching jobs or fill a more limited number of spots for permanent subs. Those who aren’t certified could move into hourly spots, such as teacher assistants.

The district’s current vacancies include 464 for teachers or other certified staff and 526 for other jobs.

The federal money also pays for an array of recruitment and retention bonuses for hard-to-fill jobs, ranging from bus drivers to special education teachers. That money, which can add thousands of dollars to an employee’s annual pay, won’t be available in the coming year. Hill said it’s too early to tell how that might affect staffing.

Federal COVID-19 money also goes toward tutoring and after-school enrichment programs designed to help students make up lost ground after in-person classes were disrupted. CMS plans to work with businesses and community groups to explore new ways to pay for those efforts.

Reorganizing for academics

Hill outlined plans to revamp staffing. They include:

  • Adding math and literacy “master teachers” at each school, which will require paying for 166.5 new jobs.
  • Adding 39 assistant principals to help cover large schools.
  • Providing more money to pay for “teacher leader” positions, which involve large pay hikes for teachers who can coach colleagues and/or teach extra students.
  • Hiring 112 technology associates who will be responsible for laptops and tablets sent home with students.
  • Expanding high-school counselor jobs from 10 months to 11 months to ensure students start classes with an accurate schedule.

Hill said she’ll pay for those items by eliminating county funding for 411 teachers, which are allotted based on school poverty levels. She said that does not mean 411 teachers will lose jobs, because more than 70% of those positions have been swapped out to hire different staff when principals can’t find teachers.

Raising hourly pay

Kluttz says CMS wants to boost the district’s minimum hourly wage from $15.60 to $17.25. That’s still less than the county’s minimum of $20 an hour and the estimated “living wage” of $18.20.

That would provide raises for 1,466 CMS employees and require about $34 million in new money.

Pain and commitment

In addition to those changes, Hill has been restructuring administrative offices and bringing new people into top jobs. It all adds up to a lot of change for the district’s 19,000-plus employees.

Hill says she recognizes that’s creating stress: “The biggest issue is going to be the change that our people will experience.”

Board Chair Stephanie Sneed says the board recognizes that the changes are about more than numbers in a budget.

“These employees are people. ... They’re people that support our students and our families,” she said. “So they are the crux and the vital, the key components to making sure that the board’s goals are accomplished.”

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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.