CMS boss talks budget cuts, safety at forum

Parents and educators at a recent school town hall event said they’re worried about what impact federal budget cuts will have on their students.

Working to provide better communication with area residents and community members, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison recently wrapped up his last town hall budget talk in south Mecklenburg. The event gave area parents, students and CMS staff a chance to ask questions and make suggestions on what they think should be top priorities for next year’s budget.

“One of the most important functions we do every year is create a school (district) budget,” Morrison said, adding that district officials are working to create a budget that matches their goals with the needs of the community. “The challenge is there are always more wants than there are resources,” he said.

Money for the CMS budget is derived mostly from county, state and federal funding. At this point, it’s still unclear how much money the district will get for the 2013-14 school year, and with looming questions around how the federal sequestration of $1.2 trillion in budget cuts will affect education funding, many CMS parents at the Butler High meeting were concerned. Morrison said the district is expecting anywhere from $4 to $8 million in cuts, or around 5.2 percent, from next year’s federal funding, which this year accounts for 12 percent of the CMS $1.2 billion budget in its entirety.

Though Morrison told parents Monday, March 11, the system isn’t sure where cuts will come from – cuts will/could affect federally-funded programs such as Title 1 – CMS has worked this year to save some rollover funds to help account for next year’s losses.

“As we started to see this as a possibility, we looked at schools with highest needs,” Morrison said. “There was some funding that we held onto that will roll over and play as a buffer. I think we are in a very strong position. It will have an effect, but since we’ve tried to be proactive instead of reactive, it will make the impact a little easier.”

Parents and community members also brought up safety and security of schools, a top budget priority shown through the recent CMS budget survey that went out earlier this year. More than 11,000 people participated in the survey.

The response comes in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students and six adults were killed. The district currently is in talks with county commissioners on safety improvements at CMS schools.

In addition to cameras, single-entry access and more school resource officers, many parents also are interested in addressing more mental health issues at schools.

“We’re looking at human capital – what are we doing with our SROs, but also our social and emotional needs? Do we have enough counselors, social workers, psychologists? Are our students getting those services?” Morrison said. “We are actively working with various county partners to get more social workers in the schools. That’s the challenge and the opportunity that still lies ahead.”

Other top priorities from community members shown in the budget survey included more technology for teachers and the infrastructure to enable connectivity and access to the technology, as well as professional learning for all employees. At the town hall meeting, other questions came up about CMS TV, which re-launched in February, and leasing for empty school buildings, all issues and topics Morrison said he will take into account as he prepares for his budget proposal. He will present the proposal to the CMS Board of Education on April 9.

The district will then host two more community meetings on the budget April 16 and 22. The board is scheduled to approve the budget at its May 14 meeting, where they will then submit their request for funding to county commissioners.

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