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Charlotte Area News

Say What? CMS To Have Increase In Teachers

After months of financial upheaval and angst over the some 1,500 projected layoffs, figures released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools today show the school system ultimately cut 320 people due to budget cuts. Even more notably, the district will go into the coming school year with a net increase of teachers. None of the final layoffs involved teachers. Administrators recommended that the contracts of another 184 faculty members not be renewed, mostly for performance issues. The school system released the information in response to a request from the Observer for a clearer picture of its staffing situation in the wake of this spring's roller-coaster budget process. CMS issued pink slips to hundreds of teachers, only to later rescind them all when better-than-expected state and county dollars rolled in. The school system actually expects to have a net increase of teachers this school year compared to last year, CMS personnel chief Dan Habrat said today. He couldn't immediately provide exact numbers. With all the layoff-and-rehire shuffling going on, CMS currently is working to fill some 800 vacancies, Habrat said. He added that some of hiring is generated by the state legislature's decision to pay for more teachers in the early grades. "CMS is open for hire -- big time," he said. "More so than we expected to be." Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh is expected to give an update on the school system's budget situation at this evening's school board meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Government Center. CMS leaders have said the awkward mechanics of N.C. school budgeting forces them to estimate how much money they'll get from the state and county before those entities actually decide. Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James and other critics have accused the school board of exaggerating its budget troubles to get more money, though James spent much of the budget process accusing CMS of underestimating the severity of the state cuts. School board members Tim Morgan and Trent Merchant said today that CMS drew up its projections relying on state estimates of cuts as deep as 15 percent. Ultimately, the actual reductions proved much less severe, and CMS restored all the planned teacher cuts. Merchant said the district's budget projections do tend to be cautious; he added that the public would be outraged if the school board found itself coming up short financially in July and scrambling to get schools staffed and opened on time. "I think we ought to be celebrating, not wondering why we didn't fire more people," he said. "We operated on the best information we had." The figures provided today show 693 teachers and other certified instructional support staff were notified of possible job loss due to the budget cuts. All told, CMS notified 1,344 employees of potential layoffs. In January, then-Superintendent Peter Gorman rolled out a preliminary budget plan that spelled out $100 million in cuts. It eliminated about 1,500 jobs, including some 600 teachers. In May, the district said it had sent layoff notices to 739 educators and an unspecified number of other employees, including teacher assistants, administrators and custodians. The district had said it would need $55 million to avoid laying off more than 700 teachers. But Mecklenburg County commissioners in June approved giving CMS an additional $26 million to alleviate the budget crunch. Shortly afterward, the state settled on a budget containing $40 million in cuts for CMS, which was far less than the $70 million officials had been fearing.