Cover Story: Would a furlough help CMS?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools working on a plan to save as many teachers jobs as it possibly can.

The district has already conceded that it will probably have to lay off as many as 600 teachers.

But that number is based on an $80 million shortfall.  If the deficit turns out to be larger, they'll have to come up with other options.

One option is a furlough.  It's controversial but it can put a dent in that shortfall in a hurry.  But right now CMS doesn't have the authority to enact furloughs.

How would they work?  Who would it affect?  And is it worth looking into?

"We've reached the point in time where we will have reduced by so much we can't just keep saying do more with less."  A frustrated Peter Gorman when he looks at the future.

None of his options good.  But an idea that's emerged in budget talks among the CMS Board of Education members and was tried by Gov. Perdue last summer to balance the budget.. furlough workers.  Giving them days off, but not paying them either.

In CMS' case if you give all teachers, administrators and year-round employees two days furlough the district could cut $5.7 million from its budget.

"It can become a lightning rod," said Gorman.  "So our local folks I've talked to have been supportive but it will be very interesting to see how we're able to garner support."

CMS is looking at making cuts everywhere, even things middle school sports.  But where it can save the most money is by cutting salaries.  85% of CMS' money goes to pay checks.  Of that 92% is spent on people who impact the classroom.

Attack the salaries and that includes teachers salaries and you can tackle your budget problems.

"This is a very dangerous situation," says NC Rep. Tricia Cotham.  "Teachers are already not making the national average like they should."

For CMS to get the authority to consider furloughs the district would need to get the support of local representatives like Tricia Cotham, herself a former teacher and assistant principal.

She says, "They're just at the planning stages right now. And they want every option possible and I can understand that but there's a lot of teachers saying look at other options."

State lawmakers considered a furlough bill last year and it went nowhere.

For CMS to have the authority to do it here the district would need permission from the legislature.

No plan has been formalized but district leaders want it as a tool in their tool box.

"Give local Boards of Education authority to make decisions that impact their area," said Gorman.

It's not clear if there's support among the Mecklenburg delegation.

Several hurdles though CMS would need authority to be able to tinker with the school calendar.

And since the General Assembly doesn't meet till mid-May this year, nothing can be done until then.

The CMS superintendent has to submit his budget by mid-April.  So it's possible if they get permission to do the furloughs they could restore some of the positions they're looking at cutting.

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