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CMS budget on its way to county

By a six to three vote last night, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board approved Superintendent Peter Gorman's $1.2 billion budget proposal for next year. District officials now have the task of convincing major funding sources to meet the request. But this year, the state and county are trying to plug budget holes of their own. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports: The back and forth pattern of CMS going to the county with a request and the county recommending a different amount is the typical yearly budget dance. And not having an exact figure from the state is also pretty standard. But during last night's budget presentation, Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley pointed to mounting shortfalls. "The 2009-2010 budget projections continue to look dismal from both of our primary funding sources," she said. The state, which accounts for 60 percent of the CMS budget proposal, is grappling with a $4.6 billion gap. Mecklenburg County, which would fund more than 30 percent the budget, is dealing with a $79 million hole. The district knows for now, it must trim 10 percent of its request to the county. But still, its $351 million request doesn't reflect the cut. Instead, the budget shows options for laying off classroom teachers and assistant principals. Superintendent Peter Gorman proposes eliminating 782 classroom jobs with the option of restoring them, if the district gets more money. In the meantime, the district has already started laying off 534 non-classroom workers. School board member Larry Gauvreau was set on voting against the budget from the start. He said, "This is finally going to- at least at this stage that we're in- going to reduce our budget by one percent. One percent is the best that this school system, this board and superintendent could come up with after a decade of excess in spending." Gauvreau again reiterated more than $ 200 million in savings could be found by reducing the transportation budget and getting rid of a pre-K program and the English as a Second Language program for immigrant students who don't speak English. Board Vice Chair Kaye McGarry also voted against the budget plan. She says there are plenty of extras that could be eliminated, in place of the classroom positions. McGarry proposed taking out one item- the CMS TV service, which costs close to $480,000. "This is a small dent that to me is something that has been under controversy 25 years- and why CMS is in the entertainment business- I believe we should be more in the education business," she said. McGarry's proposal received enthusiastic applause from many CMS parents in the audience. But just three board members supported it. Board member Ken Gjertsen also voted against the budget plan. In the spring he vowed to oppose any proposal that would eliminate classroom teachers. During that spring rally of teachers protesting the cuts, Gjertsen was joined by County Commissioner Vilma Leake, a former school board member. After a county budget session yesterday, Leake said there's no room to push back against the county manager's recommendation to give CMS $34 million less than what it's asking. "But if you look at the economy today, what else could you do? We had to do what we had to do," she exclaimed. Leake says, at least federal stimulus funds will be coming to the district's neediest schools. The district has secured about $54 million in federal money, but that's for struggling schools. And it's still not clear how much the state-administered stimulus money will be. In two weeks, CMS and the county will hold a joint budget work session. The president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators says right now the teachers are caught in the middle of the uncertainty over just how much CMS will receive from the county and the state.