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Charlotte Area News

CMS board questioned and told off

Teachers, parents and students protested proposed teacher cuts at board meeting.

Charlotte Mecklenburg School officials spent a good part of yesterday being questioned by county commissioners and taken to task by parents, teachers and students upset about budget cuts. The CMS board started the afternoon in the principal's office, so to speak, and that was the easy part of the day. Mecklenburg County commissioners who hold the district's purse strings wanted to hear how CMS students were performing. For the most part, they were encouraged by what they heard. Students have made gains in many subject areas, and at the high school level the achievement gap between whites and African Americans and whites and Hispanics has narrowed. County commissioner Dan Murrey said when budgeting he wants to know the county is putting its money to good use. "We know that there are plenty of programs within the county that we support that work. To see that CMS is one of those programs that we're funding, that it actually works is very encouraging and I think makes people much more willing to consider finding extra help," said Murrey. Extra help this year would mean cutting less from the CMS budget. Superintendent Peter Gorman expects to lay off 1000 employees, including 600 teachers, which would drive up class sizes. CMS board chair Eric Davis told commissioners that loss will make it harder for kids to learn. "That's the intervention that if we could turn that one around that would shore up and ensure that our gains continue to move forward," said Davis. As the session wrapped up, people began packing the meeting chamber one floor below. Usually CMS budget hearings are pretty subdued, but not this year. More than 50 people signed up to speak and many others came to watch. They held signs that read "We are your cuts" and "Prune the top." One-by-one parents, teachers, and students stepped up to the podium and told board members what they thought about the prospect of limiting bus stops for magnet schools, creating separate administrative zones for high-poverty schools and, of course, laying off teachers. "Look in the faces of your staff reductions," demanded science teacher John Mock. "That means people losing their jobs. That means teachers out of the classroom." "The top three reasons why it is more difficult to be in a larger class and learn at the same time is because it is easier to cheat, harder for the teacher to control the students, more difficult to get one-on-on time with the teacher," said East Meck student Guillian Prince. "Who is going to teach our children? We cannot afford any more cutscan not," said parent Crystal Bailey, shaking her head. "I was hired to serve the public. You can be replaced, we can not. You have the power of your vote and we have the power of ours," insisted English teacher Gariann Yochym. The CMS board will vote on a budget May 11, but county commissioners won't decide how much to give the district until June.