CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston wants an additional $36.8 million from the county for the coming school year.
He presented his $1.6 billion budget plan as a request for “support through these unprecedented times.” He’s referring, of course, to the coronavirus pandemic that has closed schools and sent the economy into uncharted territory.
He said he’s been talking to county officials "and they have shared that the crisis that we’re in, COVID-19, while they are not sure what the long-term impact will be, this current situation will have an impact on their revenue streams."
But Winston’s presentation at Tuesday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting was also unprecedented in its lack of detail.
The full CMS budget report is generally in the range of 200 pages, which Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley often previews for reporters and presents – in shortened form – at a public meeting.
Winston became superintendent in August and is overseeing his first budget. Tuesday night he made his own report – from a 12-page PowerPoint. And only four of those slides included any budget numbers. The district sent a 117-page budget report late Tuesday night, after WFAE requested it.
The meeting was closed to any audience, including reporters, because of the threat of coronavirus exposure. But it was streamed on YouTube.
Here’s what we know: Winston’s proposed request to the county is just over $538 million. That’s an increase of 3.1%, or $36.8 million, over the current year.
The state provides more than half of the district’s operating budget, but CMS has little control over that. So CMS budget plans always focus on county spending.
Winston’s plan includes raising the minimum hourly wage from $13.22 to $14.41, as part of an effort to reach $15 an hour soon. Teacher raises are largely shaped by the state – which deadlocked over the current year’s budget.
Winston wants county money to hire more school security staff and emotional support workers.
"This proposal would allow us to hire 15 additional counselors, 15 additional social workers, five psychologists and two behavioral specialists," he said.
And he made reference to needing money for enrollment growth, without details, although he noted that "the majority of the costs here that we anticipate are for charter school growth."
School districts must pass along a per-pupil share of county money to charter schools. In recent years those independent public schools have grown while CMS enrollment declined this year.
The report, which was not available to the public during the presentation, says CMS expects to add 315 students, reaching 147,203 next year. That would still be fewer students than the district had in 2018-19 and 2017-18. CMS expects to see an additional 1,800 students enroll in charter schools, requiring an additional $9 million in county money.
After the meeting, board Chair Elyse Dashew responded to questions about the lack of detail by referring to the turmoil of dealing with the coronavirus and school closings. But Winston opened the meeting by noting that his staff has been working on the budget since November.
The school board will review Winston’s plan before voting in April and sending a request to county commissioners in May.
Two sessions to present the plan to the community in April have been canceled because of the coronavirus, and the board’s work sessions are likely to be held electronically. A process for public comments is in the works.