Gorman offers first glimpse of $100 million in cuts

Class days extended, Bright Beginnings dealt a blow, Magnet buses safe for now

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

Facing another year of significant cuts in state and federal funding, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman showed board members Tuesday night what $100 million in cuts would mean for district students, teachers and staff.

“In my 20 years in education, I’ve never had to make a recommendation for cuts this large,” he told the board Tuesday, Jan. 11.

“These cuts are not in the best interest of our students,” Gorman said.  But they are, he continued, “the best thinking we have” at this time.

Funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ends this year, leaving the state without the stimulus dollars it has seen over the last few years – about $38 billion since 2008. Facing a $3.7 billion shortfall, the state has asked the district to prepare for cuts of 5, 10 and 15 percent, which could mean up to $125 million in cuts for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“This year it’s not possible to make the cuts we have to make without touching our classrooms,” Gorman said. And because of the significance of those cuts and the potential impact they will have on students, staff and families, Gorman wanted to present to the board his recommendations early.  As it always does, the board will vote on next year’s budget in May, before it knows the amount of state and federal funding the district will receive. It is unclear if Mecklenburg County will also ask for a reduction in the system’s budget.

One likely scenario, Gorman said, would bring about $100 million in cuts from the state.

That would mean eliminating middle school sports, cutting more than 1,500 staff positions and making some cuts to arts and technical education, Gorman said.

He asked the board to vote on three key items at its Jan. 25 meeting:

• Bell Schedules

Changing the bell schedules at more than 100 schools could save about $4 million, Gorman said. In Gorman’s recommendation, some schools could see as much as a 90-minute swing in its bell schedule. Others could see changes of 15, 30, 45 minutes or an hour.

The changes would allow buses to make up to four or five runs each, and would extend the school day elementary students from 6 hours and 15 minutes to 7 hours.

The bell schedule changes would affect about 80,000 students at 153 schools. A complete list of schools with proposed bell schedule changes can be found on the CMS website, www.cms.k12.nc.us.

• Bright Beginnings

Reducing the early childhood learning classroom facilities from 175 to 70 would free up more Title 1 funds to be used for K-12 education. The district receives no special funding for the pre-K program, and has been carving out some Title 1 funding to support it. All 70 remaining classrooms would be funded through Title 1, except for a few expenses that are not eligible for that funding. The 105-classroom cut would reduce the number of available Bright Beginnings student spots from 3,200 to 1,178. “This is one we do not want to do,” Gorman said, but continuing to fund all 175 classes would mean continuing to take money away from K-12 classes.

• Weighted student staffing

Weighted student staffing assigns  greater resources to students in high-poverty schools so that they receive more help in the classroom. “It is my belief as an educator that this is the most important system we have,” Gorman said. Currently, the district allocates about $48 million for the system. Reducing the per-student weighted staffing from 1.3 to 1.25 would eliminate 134 jobs and save $7.9 million.

These three items, Gorman said, require early action and direction from the board because they may significantly impact families and other district staff planning.

The sobering meeting lasted more than four hours, and many board members took the opportunity to express their displeasure at the situation and their dislike for many of the decisions, but all members understood that the situation is unprecedented in its severity.

“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a funding problem,” Board Chairman Eric Davis said.

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