CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The leader of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools unveiled his recommendations Tuesday afternoon to cut $100 million from the school district's 2011-12 operating budget.
Superintendent Peter C. Gorman unveiled his budget plan at a meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.
A handout detailing Gorman's proposed budget calls for a total of $100,122,498 in reductions.
The plan calls reducing more than half the number of Bright Beginnings pre-kindergarten class, eliminating teacher assistants for first and second grades, and increasing class sizes by two students in grades four through 12. In addition, 1,516 employees would be laid off.
Tuesday night Gorman said he couldn't yet say how many of the 1516 employees would be teachers, but he said it would be "hundreds and hundreds."
Under the plan, $10.4 million would be trimmed from the Bright Beginnings program which currently includes five pre-kindergarten centers and 14 elementary schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system. The program is free of charge to eligible four year olds and includes free transportation for most and serves meals.
"None of us wants to make these cuts," Gorman said. "But we have to. So we've approached this challenge by asking ourselves: What will do the least harm? We can't have larger classes, fewer teachers, fewer electives and less pre-kindergarten preparation without affecting student achievement."
CMS says the cuts are necessary because of anticipated declines in state and local funding which are the two primary sources for the CMS operating budget.
In addition, federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has sent the states nearly $38 billion since 2008, is ending. Thirty-five states are projecting budget gaps, with 21 – including North Carolina -- anticipating gaps of 10 percent or more. North Carolina's preliminary budget estimate shows a gap of $3.7 billion.
The state has asked all areas to plan for a budget reduction ranging from five to 15 percent. For CMS, a five percent cut in state funding would be $52 million; 10 percent is $93 million and 15 percent is $125 million. If Mecklenburg County offers a similar reduction, those amounts could increase.
CMS is making the budget recommendation earlier than usual because some of the changes will affect students and CMS employees. Gorman asked the Board to make decisions on those changes by Jan. 25.
Some of the cuts requiring an early decision is the district's recommendation to change the weighted-student staffing formula from 1.3 to 1.25, which would reduce the number of teachers. Weighted-student staffing assigns a larger weight to students in poverty, because they require more resources to keep up with other students. Weighted-student staffing allows the funding to follow the students, which can mean more resources and more teachers for high-poverty schools.
A second recommendation requiring an early decision is proposed changes in bell schedules, which would allow the district to use its buses more effectively. Gorman told the Board that these changes should be made early so families can make adjustments and the transportation department can design new bus routes.
A third recommendation would reduce the number of Bright Beginnings classes to 70 from 175. An early decision would allow affected families to plan, and would also give other preschool providers time to expand their programs to address the increased need.
The Board is expected to vote on those three proposals at its next meeting, which is Jan. 25.
Gorman is also recommending eliminating all money for middle school sports, which barely survived being cut in last year's budget.
One surprise from Tuesday's meeting: Gorman is not recommending cutting all magnet school busing. Many had expected him to do so.
Cuts that aren't voted on in the next school board meeting will be voted on sometime over the next six months.
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