Proposed Mecklenburg County budget falls short on public education

On May 16, thousands of North Carolina teachers–including more than 2000 from Mecklenburg County alone–marched through the streets of Raleigh, calling on state legislators to increase funding for public education.  Less than a week later, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio unveiled her proposed budget for FY 2019.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools had requested an increase in funding of just under $40 million for school year 2018-19.  The County Manager recommended the county commission cut that number to $24 million.

There are some positives in the proposed county budget.  For example, it increases funding for support services personnel, adding 33 school counselors, 10 psychologists, and 17 social workers.  These new hires will help improve local staffing ratios that lag far behind recommended levels and provide better support for CMS students’ social and emotional health.

Unfortunately, as it stands, the FY 2019 budget declines to fund important CMS program expansion efforts.  The county will not fund expansion of AVID, a program which works to close the opportunity gap by preparing students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education for success in college and beyond.  

The budget also does not fund 20 additional teachers of English language learners (students who are unable to speak or read fluently in English and whose primary home language is something other than English) despite the fact that their enrollment is projected to increase next year.  The lack of funding means that class sizes will grow for our students who need language development the most.

When presenting the budget to the Board of County Commissioners, County Manager Diorio commented that her goal was to create economic opportunity.  Expanding AVID and providing a better level of service to English language learners would help make that economic opportunity available to a broader cross section of our community.

Another shortcoming of the budget is that it continues the freeze on the local salary supplement that began in 2012 rather than honoring CMS’s request to increase it by 7%.  The cost of living is higher in Mecklenburg County than it is in Wake County, but Wake’s supplement averages $1500 more.  More teachers leave Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools than leave Wake County Public Schools.  Unless our county is willing to make fair compensation a higher priority, that trend is likely to continue.  

One of my favorite signs from the May 16 rally in Raleigh said simply “Your future is in our classrooms.”  The future of Mecklenburg County is being created in our classrooms and in our schools. How our leaders prioritize funding for education will help determine what that future holds.  

There is a public hearing on the proposed budget on Monday, June 4 at 6 PM in the Government Center.  (600 E. 4th St, free parking available in the garage across the street) Teachers and friends of public education, if you believe our county commission needs to fully fund CMS’s budget request, please RSVP here and be prepared to show up at 5 pm in your Red4Ed.  If you’re interested in speaking, you can sign up here.

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