School board to cast first budget votes

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education will vote Tuesday, Jan. 25, on the first round of cuts to next year’s budget, including changes to bell schedules at more than 150 schools that could mean up to a 90-minute shift in class time.

While the schedule changes would be far-reaching, they have not drawn much public backlash from north Mecklenburg County parents and educators.

“The bell schedule shift doesn’t bother me at all,” parent Karyn Porter said, “But I don’t want one more teacher out of the classroom.”

Porter has two children at Cornelius Elementary and one at Bailey Middle.

For Christy Cowan’s family, with one daughter at Torrence Creek Elementary and another at Bradley Middle, the schedule shifts for the girls would require some changes to the family’s routine. Cowan’s oldest daughter, Bryn, a sixth-grader at Bradley, takes dance classes after school. If Bradley’s schedule shifts to dismiss at 4:15 instead of 3:45 p.m., that leaves almost no time for Bryn to get from the bus stop to the dance room. Cowan, also the PTA president at Bradley, said other Bradley parents have expressed to her similar concerns about how the late dismissal will impact after school activities.  But, Cowan adds, “I do agree if it’s going to save money (and keep other resources in the classrooms), it’s a good thing.”

“I really think it’s a good thing,” River Oaks Academy Principal Marilyn Osborne said. “Teachers often say they don’t have enough time,” she said, “and it will give us more time to teach the literacy and math skills our students need to be proficient in.”

Torrence Creek Elementary parent Karen Munson has two daughters – Ruby, in second grade, and Blair, in kindergarten. For her, like Porter, the logistics of a bell schedule shift are not her primary concern. Her children take the bus to school and would continue to do so, so the family’s daily routine would not be disrupted.

But she is not sure the youngest students, like Blair, would be able to handle the extended day. “Seven hours seems like a long day for a five-year-old,” she said.

“Children are resilient,” Osborne said, “they’ll bounce back.”

She believes students at every grade level could benefit from additional time in the classroom with their teachers.

While parents agree that some questions remain to be answered, many say their primary concern is with the potential loss of teacher and teacher assistant positions.

“When I was in school, we didn’t have assistants, but we weren’t as large as Torrence Creek,” Munson said. “As large of a school as it is, you need extra eyes or ears to help out.”

Torrence Creek operates well above capacity, with around 1,200 students and 23 mobile classroom units in use. Many north Mecklenburg area schools are dealing with similar issues of capacity.

“What we really need to educate our children are teachers, text books and buildings,” Porter said.

School Board Member Rhonda Lennon said, “My goal is to eliminate cuts to teacher positions, and if the bell schedule shift can save $4 million,” she said, “that’s 80 to 100 teacher jobs.”

It’s that sort of math – cutting funds from one service to supplement another – that Lennon and other board members would like defined more concretely prior to voting Tuesday.

“We want to know what would be the first thing to come back,” Lennon said. “For example, if we find a way to cut $10 million from somewhere else, would that allow us to prevent (increasing class sizes) by two students?”

The potential cuts in teaching positions, combined with the possible two-student increase in class size, is particularly disconcerting for Lennon.

In addition to the bell schedule shifts, the board also will vote Tuesday on reductions to weighted student staffing, which assigns more resources to students in high-poverty schools so that they receive more help in the classroom. The Bright Beginnings pre-K program may also be cut by about percent.

Lennon is in favor of the proposed reduction to weighted student staffing, but would like to see it reduced even more.

“The suburban schools took the biggest hit from weighted student staffing,” Lennon said.

While Gorman’s recommendation for next year is to reduce the per-pupil weight from 1.3 to 1.25, she would like to see the weighted student staffing numbers at 1.2 or below, she said.

Though not up for a vote Tuesday, Lennon also would like to discuss further magnet school transportation. Gorman did not recommend cutting magnet busing in his Jan. 11 presentation – a cut that could save between $5 and $9 million – but he said that if state and federal funding cuts are more severe, that transportation item would need to be revisited.

Proposed bell schedules for schools in Mountain Island


• Bradley Middle: 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
• Long Creek Elementary: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Mountain Island Elementary: 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
• Oakdale Elementary: 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
• River Oaks Elementary: 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
• Whitewater Academy: 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

CMS wants to hear from parents with suggestions and ideas about the proposed budget cuts. E-mail staff at budgetquestions@cms.k12.nc.us

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