Mecklenburg County Commissioners consider withholding $41 million in CMS education funding

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In a Tuesday Budget Straw Vote session, the Mecklenburg County Commissioners considered placing $41 million in the FY 2021 budget in ‘restricted contingency,’ releasing it only if the school district could meet certain conditions.

Commissioners voted to approve restricting $11 million until CMS could figure out how to raise hourly staff to $15/hr and tabled a motion to withhold another $30 million in instructional services funding pending more discussion at today’s second day of the Straw Vote.

Chairman George Dunlap proposed moving $11 million into restricted contingency until CMS can come up with a plan to pay hourly staff a “livable wage,” saying it was not a sufficient priority for the school district. Commissioner Trevor Fuller said there would be “gnashing of teeth,” but “they’ll figure it out.”

The motion passed by a vote of 8-1, with Commissioner Elaine Powell voting no.

You can hear that portion of the meeting here:

The $30 million proposal began with Commissioner Vilma Leake saying CMS was failing to educate children and asking, “How can I take funds?”

Leake proposed withholding 30% of CMS’s instructional services budget, which County Manager Dena Diorio informed her would come to $84 million. Leake then reduced her proposal to $30 million which she said would be placed in restricted contingency with CMS given 90 days to come up with a plan for “how to educate children.”

As discussion proceeded, it became increasingly clear that commissioners had no plan for a metric which would serve to satisfy such a contingency. After voicing his support for the approach and noting “If you want to get someone’s attention, mess with their money,” Commissioner Fuller proposed tabling the motion to allow time for more thought and input on what conditions would allow for the release of the $30 million.

The motion to table the matter until today passed by a vote of 8-0. You can hear audio of that part of the meeting below:

It’s worth noting that eliminating $30 million from CMS’s budget would likely require the district to cut hundreds of county-funded jobs. Those positions could include teachers and support services such as school counselors and psychologists.

While few would argue that our results with students of poverty are where they need to be, it’s very difficult to see how withholding that funding wouldn’t make things a great deal worse.

It’s also hard to see how the timing of shifting to a more aggressive, strings-attached approach to funding public schools during the worst health crisis in any of our lifetimes makes any sense whatsoever.

May 27 is the second and final day of the Straw Vote session. Commissioners will hold their final vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 2.

You can find contact information for Commissioners here:

https://www.mecknc.gov/CountyManagersOffice/BOCC/Pages/Home.aspx

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