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Charlotte Area

Gorman's $1.2B spending plan equal to year ago, but times have changed

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman's official budget plan for next year calls for eliminating more than 1,300 jobs. But with multiple funding allocations still up in the air, it's not clear how many district jobs will definitely be gone. Superintendent Peter Gorman presented the nearly $1.2 billion dollar proposal to the school board last night. He pointed out it was the sixth time the board got details on the spending plan. He said, "From individual conversations I've had with board members, comments that have been shared, they've never gotten together six times before the official presentation. I'd love to tell you the numbers are final and we know where we're going but we know there's great flux to it." Gorman says that flux has made planning difficult. CMS is trimming more than $86 million from its requests to its major funders: the county and the state. With tax revenues lowered during this recession, the county is ordering all departments - CMS included - to reduce budgets by at least nine percent. But the district's $351 million request to the county is essentially equal to last year's. Meanwhile, the governor's budget proposal calls for more money for schools, yet the senate's plan drastically cuts school programs. The CMS budget proposal trims 534 central office and support position, and has the flexibility to eliminate 782 classroom jobs. Under the plan those classroom jobs would be restored if reductions from the state and county aren't as high as anticipated. That's a big if, according to CMS Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley. "We are operating with an unprecedented level and degree of uncertainty with regard to our expected funding levels from all sources," she said. Plus, district officials still don't know what their federal stimulus allocation will be and what the rules are to spend it. They say by Monday they expect to have something definitive. The district has already started laying off workers from the group of non-classroom positions up for elimination. Now, Gorman says because of all of the unknowns the district will likely have to move forward with plans for cutting the classroom teacher and assistant principal jobs. "If we don't have budget information by the dates of that, we'll have to do that. I don't know for sure if we'll have to do that. But we're ready and we're in action to do that - or we'll go into action to do that," says Gorman. He didn't give a specific date of when these cuts would take place. The school board did not talk about the budget last night. But some parents who advocate for equity across CMS schools did. Parent Pam Grundy is concerned about losing school support positions such as counselors and psychologists, particularly in struggling schools. "This set of cuts will weigh most heavily on those young people who already face the greatest obstacles to success. This is simply wrong," she says. Equity advocate Carol Sawyer says while the budget proposal seeks to protect teachers, other trimming leaves them vulnerable. She says, "If we take away the behavior management folks, the counselors, the social workers, the psychologists, you've made it impossible for that teacher to be successful." More people are expected to give input on the budget at a public hearing in two weeks. Board members are saving their comments and questions until then. The budget presentation schedule has been delayed by about a month because of all of the unknown factors. Gorman plans to deliver the proposal to the county in May.