Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eric Davis: Why CMS needs more

Here's a copy of the remarks Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board chair Eric Davis made Tuesday night on why he believes CMS needs an additional $55 million to avoid laying off teachers, assistants and other educational staff. Although there was no formal vote, six of the eight other members said they support Davis's proposal and one, Rhonda Lennon, partially supported it. Only Kaye McGarry opposed asking for additional money.

You can view the whole discussion here.

Notes for those trying to follow the math: Davis talks about $55 million more from the county and state. He says that's $45 million more than Gorman's request, which adds $10 million to this year's allotment. It's not yet clear whether any of that will come from the state. The job total in the Observer article includes the positions itemized below, plus 80 assistants in the Bright Beginnings classrooms that would be saved. The actual job total would likely be higher, as the pre-K centers now slated to close have administrators and other support staff.  -- Ann Doss Helms

BOE Budget request                                                              April 26, 2011
Dr. Gorman, has your budget recommendation changed over the past 2 weeks? (Note from the Observer: Gorman said no.) With that the Budget is now fully in the hands of the Board of Education.
A fundamental financial problem confronting our school system is that we have to develop our budget before we have an understanding of the potential funding from the State and County. Moreover by State law, we have to start layoff notices before we request funding, much less know how much funding we will receive. It is a completely backwards and destructive process that in no way contributes to educating students in CMS or North Carolina. Even this late in the process, the projected State cuts range from $45 to $88mm. As a result, we have a process full of assumption and rework at best, a process full of misperception, mistrust and highly political at worst. Instead our students and teachers need a budget process in which the State, as the primary funder, determines its budget in the early spring which would enable the County, as an extension of State government, to pass its budget in time for the School district to inform our students and teachers of our plans by the end of the school year.
 Nevertheless in the absence of a logical process, this Board must still determine what our students’ need. Our Superintendent has made a thoughtful recommendation given the realities that we face, a recommendation that assumes a 10% cut in State funding and a request of $10mm in additional local funding. That recommendation still requires $100mm in cuts that will be devastating and will create long term damage.
I believe that public education is the foremost responsibility of our State and local government and that the education of our students is not only the primary economic development engine for our economy, but the essential element of our safety and security as a democracy. And I believe that our public school students require greater funding than they currently receive which leads me to call upon my colleagues on the Board to join in asking from our fellow citizens in Mecklenburg County to begin restoring the $50mm in funding for our school system that was been cut over the past two years. I acknowledge the challenges of this request, that it may require a multiyear effort, that many citizens particularly those who live on fixed incomes will have a difficult time supporting this call. It will take sacrifice, but it is imperative that we begin now to reverse the steady retreat of reduced support for public education before we lose the gains that our students have made.
Over the past four years, thanks to heroic efforts of many of our teachers and the nurturing care of so many parents, our students have closed the achievement gap more than any other large urban district. In the 25 areas that our students are assessed, they have increased their proficiency in all 25. Five years ago we were accused of academic genocide when only 55% of our schools were achieving a year’s growth, today 95% of our schools are achieving a year’s growth and 108 are achieving high growth. It takes years of shoulder to the wheel, hard work to build this momentum; it can all be wiped out in one more year of damaging cuts. To preserve these gains, to continue to move forward, we need from our State and County education partners in 2011-2012, $55mm in additional funding to preserve the most critical elements of our system.
How will we invest this $55mm from the State and County?
·       The first $15.4mm will preserve 260 classroom teachers in grades 4-12 in schools such as Albemarle Road, Myers Park, Ardrey Kell, Mint Hill and Bailey Road.
·       The next $8.6mm will preserve 146 classroom teachers through our WSS (Note: That's Weighted Student Staffing, a formula for assigning additional teachers based on student poverty) strategy helping students at West Mecklenburg, Independence, West Charlotte, Myers Park, Sterling, and Hidden Valley.
·       The next $11.1mm will save 164 instructional support, literacy and math specialists, helping students at schools such as Westerly Hills, Druid Hills, Shamrock Gardens, Sharon, Community House, in every school in the system.
·       The next $9.2mm will sustain 328 teacher assistants in elementary schools across the district like Selwyn, Idlewild, Piney Grove, Landsdowne, and Winding Springs.
·       Finally $10.4mm will preserve teachers for 80 preK classrooms and insure that not only will more of are our most vulnerable kindergarten students be prepared, but that their classmates who come kindergarten ready have a prepared student by their side.
Whether you live on Statesville Road, Albemarle Road, Providence Road, or Beatties Ford Road, this additional funding will benefit you.
Why am I convinced that our students need this support from our fellow citizens in Mecklenburg County? I need not remind our students of how their class sizes have exploded the past 3 years, or parents of how you have had to pay for AP exams and sports programs, and had to deal with the reduction in transportation services. Likewise, our principals and teachers have felt the loss of colleagues, teachers, teacher assistants, and assistant principals. But mostly our teachers have felt the loss of stability in their profession. While not all of these are completely attributable to a reduction in County funding, most are and all have been worsened by the decrease in local support.
For the past 11 months, we have been preparing for this day. We started in June reviewing our real estate portfolio, we set aside $20mm to reduce the Federal funding cliff, we were forced to fill schools to the brim and consolidate out of under filled and high cost buildings, we have reduced the number of our highest salaried executives as reported in last Sunday’s Observer, we directed our Superintendent to begin detailed budget planning  2 months early in January in order to give our community the opportunity to weigh in on solutions and we delayed some early decisions to afford more community participation. Recently, we took the controversial step of exploring managed competition as further evidence of our financial discipline and fiscal stewardship of your dollars. Over all, we have stretched our system to its full capacity and we can go no further without long term harm.
Every CMS student, teacher, parent, and citizen of Mecklenburg County will have their own individual reason to either refute or support our request. The one reason to support our request that ties us together as one is that it is in our own best self interest to have a strong public school system that is moving forward. I hope that you will join our cause for the students of today, tomorrow, and for those who 50 years from now will look back and thank us for taking a stand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jones: Jefferson post offers "unique opportunity"

Mecklenburg County Harry Jones says he initially declined an opportunity to apply for a new county manager post in Alabama, but said he thinks the job represents a unique opportunity to transform the troubled county.

Jones was named on Monday one of three finalists for the manager job in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes the city of Birmingham. Read the news release by clicking here. State lawmakers ordered the county to hire a professional manager to help pull the county out of a fiscal crisis tied, in part, to a multi-billion-dollar sewer deal.

The Observer asked Jones, 61, what interests him about the Alabama position, particularly given the struggles Jefferson has faced in recent years.

In an e-mail, Jones wrote: "The search firm pursued me aggressively to become a candidate. Although, I declined initially, I decided after consultation with my family to submit an application. My family reminded me that I have a great deal to be proud of here in Mecklenburg County and that I have a very compelling story about organizational change to tell. The position in Jefferson County represents a unique opportunity, as the first county manager, to transform an organization on the brink of bankruptcy to a high performing, results-oriented, fiscally-disciplined entity. I am interested in interviewing them- more than being interviewed by them- on their vision for the future and their plans, thoughts, and commitment to create long-term sustainable change and their willingness to make the extremely tough decisions necessary help them out of this very deep fiscal hole they are in."

Jones has worked for Mecklenburg County government for two decades and has served as manager since 2000. -- APRIL BETHEA

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CRVA: Payments also made in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Richmond

In a memo emailed today to the mayor and Charlotte City Council members, the CRVA said it was standard operating procedure for the CIAA host city to appoint a local tournament coordinator to manage the week-long event.

The memo also says that previous host cities, including Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Richmond, had specific contractual agreements similar to Charlotte's, where the CIAA paid a bonus for the coordinator's services.

"The amounts paid also were different in each city for the services of the coordinator," the memo says.

Click here to read the memo.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx this week asked the authority to shed more light on how and why manager Ereka Crawford-Brim received $100,000 in bonus payments earmarked from the CIAA basketball tournament, an arrangement the Observer reported on Sunday.

The CRVA's ethics policy states that employees can't accept cash or gifts from outside the CRVA payroll, but CRVA chief executive Tim Newman told the Observer last week the bonuses were OK because they were "salary" and not gifts.

- Doug Miller

Monday, April 11, 2011

Read city's new noise plan

The city of Charlotte is considering a $1,000 fine for bars and restaurants that refuse to turn down the volume on live outdoor music. Before getting hit with a fine, chronic noise producers would get a chance to change the way they present live outdoor shows and stop disturbing people in surrounding residential areas, under changes proposed for the city’s noise ordinance. Click here to read changes to the proposed ordinance. After two violations, a business that continues to generate noise complaints could be banned for one year from having live music outdoors. The City Council’s Community Safety Committee will hear public comments April 20 on the newest plan. - Karen Sullivan

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How we estimated the revenue-neutral rate

Mecklenburg County administrators aren't expected to release the revenue-neutral estimate until Tuesday. But the Observer estimates the county could lower its property tax rate by about 6 cents and raise the same amount in revenue as before, plus a bit of growth as allowed by state law.

How did we get to that number? See our work by clicking here

A bit of background: the state Treasurer's Office provides a spreadsheet on its web site to help counties and local governments calculate what the revenue-neutral rate will be. It asks for the total assessed value for the years in between revaluations, along with the current tax rate and estimate of the new post-reval tax base.

The Observer completed the spreadsheet using assessed valuation figures compiled in the county's annual financial audits, the estimated tax base and tax rate for 2010-11 as included in the budget adopted by commissioners last June, and the current projections of what the new tax base will be.

The result was an estimated revenue-neutral rate of 77.95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The current rate is 83.87 cents.

State law requires local governments to publish a revenue-neutral rate after each revaluation. Elected boards can either use the rate in their new budgets, or set a different one.

The key to figuring out the rate is knowing the size of the new tax base. Currently, that estimate is $110.8 billion, which assumes about a 6 percent drop in the value of real estate as appeals to the recent revaluation are heard.

But the tax base includes more than just the value of real estate. It also includes the assessed values of personal property, state certified property and registered motor vehicles.

The tax base estimate is bound to change in the coming weeks, and so will estimates of the revenue-neutral rate.

Still want to learn more? The School of Government has a report that further spells out how revenue-neutral rates are calculated. Read it by clicking here. -- APRIL BETHEA, abethea@charlotteobserver.com

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gorman to teachers: We won't cut your pay

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders work toward crafting teacher performance pay for 2014, they're dealing with resistance and questions from teachers who worry that the new plan will cut pay, pit teachers against each other competing for rewards, and overburden classrooms with testing. Here's an email Superintendent Peter Gorman sent to CMS employees this morning, after telling Observer staff Tuesday that he'll avoid cutting pay.

From: Peter C. Gorman
Sent: Wednesday, April 06, 2011 7:31 AM
To: cmsmailall
Subject: Update on teacher effectiveness

Dear CMS employees,

We first began talking about teacher effectiveness three years ago. But the last three months, most of the questions we’ve gotten have been about teacher pay, which is only one part of the reforms we want to make.

The questions, and much of the public conversation about this issue, have made clear that many of our teachers are anxious, even fearful, that we’re going to cut their salaries. It’s understandable. We’ve had reductions in force, frozen salaries, budget cuts and school closures in the past two years. All of this is unsettling and it has made our jobs harder to do.

We do not intend to cut teacher pay. Teacher salaries will not go down as a result of our work to improve the way we evaluate teachers. Instead, we will focus on measuring effective teaching using multiple measures and reward our top teachers with additional money.

How we will do that, and what form it will take in our budget, has not been decided. That, along with much of the evaluation work, remains to be done. The anxiety and the fear around salary reduction has begun to get in the way of our work. But we cannot be distracted. Our work must be about improving student achievement – and the only way we’ll get there is to teach our way there.

Every child deserves a great teacher. We must do a better job in the classroom and we can do a better job. That is what we want to accomplish. It’s not about punishing teachers. It’s about helping kids – and we have to always focus on that first.