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Via: CharlotteObserver.com

Superintendent Peter Gorman is preparing three scenarios for the 2010-11 budget, ranging from no change to this year’s $1 billion-plus bottom line to a 5 percent cut.

The worst-case scenario will require planning for layoffs, officials and a consultant said at a budget meeting Monday. Cutting 5 percent would mean eliminating $31 million to $33 million, Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said.

“The only place to find real money is with people,” school board member Joe White said. “That’s sad and that’s unfortunate.”

Gorman said the layoff planning will follow roughly the same timetable as last year, when he got the board’s OK for teacher layoffs in March and teachers got pink slips in late May. Some other CMS employees got layoff notices as early as March 2009. When the state approved a tax hike during the summer, CMS rehired some of the laid-off staff.

Jonathan Travers, a consultant with the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies, told the board they’ll have to make tough choices: Are they willing to increase class sizes slightly to shift money to coaching, training and other programs that make teachers more effective? If they have to choose between spending for “core courses” such as math and English or paying higher per-pupil costs for optional classes, where will they cut?

“In a perfect world, we would like all of those things,” Travers said. But because so much of CMS’s budget is tied up in teacher salaries, he urged the district to begin planning for layoffs that are based on effectiveness rather than seniority, and that give schools some flexibility.

Simply cutting the newest hires isn’t best for students, Travers said, and because new teachers are lower-paid, “you have to cut more of them to save the same dollar amount.”

Board member Richard McElrath said he wouldn’t support cutting vocational/career classes, which were identified as some of the most expensive, because most students don’t go on to four-year college degrees. They need practical skills to earn a living, he said.

“I think those are core subjects, and I’m going to speak up loud for them,” McElrath said.

Rhonda Lennon said poor scheduling sometimes keeps students from signing up for electives. She urged Gorman and his staff to improve high-school scheduling before they eliminate jobs based on low enrollment.

Travers said it’s much easier to cut courses and jobs before high schools lock in master schedules for 2010-11. “One takeaway point is the need for urgency here,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, board members got cost information about magnet programs, middle school sports, changes to busing and merging services with other local governments. Specific proposals for cuts haven’t come out yet. Board members will consult with Gorman as he prepares a budget plan to present March 9.

After board members work through that plan, they take a request to county commissioners, who provide about one-third of CMS’s budget.

Information about state spending, which covers about 60 percent, usually comes even later. Gov. Bev Perdue asked the state Department of Public Instruction to prepare budget plans ranging from a 3 percent increase to a 7 percent cut, but Gorman said Monday he decided to focus on the scenarios in the middle of that range.

Among the cost items presented at board members’ request:

Extra staff and supplies for magnet schools cost CMS $3.8 million a year. Gorman said after the meeting it would not be practical to cut magnets for 2010-11 because CMS is already taking magnet applications.

The district spends an average of $1,542 per student to bus kids to magnet schools, compared with an average of $413 per student for neighborhood-school busing.

A transportation report says CMS could save almost $2.3 million by creating “magnet shuttle stops” for students going to Harding, Berry, Northwest and Davis, all magnets that draw students from the entire county.

Middle school sports will cost almost $1.4 million next year. During 2009 budget talks, Gorman mentioned eliminating middle school sports but board members rejected that.

Staff from CMS, Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte are studying the possibility of merging some services, including printing, building maintenance, payroll, food purchasing and CMS-TV/WTVI. They’ll present recommendations to top officials in February.

To keep up with CMS discussions, go to http://www.cms.k12.nc.us and click “Budget information” in the red box at the left of the page.

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