Thursday, June 21, 2012

Budget confusion: Schools get millions less than first thought

The state budget that legislators passed today is not quite as rosy as people thought when highlights were rolled out Wednesday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, will get $8 million to $10 million less than its leaders initially thought.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger, both Republicans, held a press conference Wednesday morning to share budget highlights. But they didn't make the budget itself public until many hours later, Wednesday evening. When that budget was finally released, the numbers didn't match what many people - both in the press and in CMS and perhaps other school systems - had understood.

The announcement issued Wednesday morning by Berger and Tillis gave bulleted highlights. The first: $251 million restored to K-12 school districts statewide. A separate bullet: A 1.2 percent pay raise for teachers and other state employees. Tillis talked about how the $251 million restoration gave local school districts a lot of flexibility.

As it turns out, the $85 million for the teacher pay raise comes out of the $251 million, not in addition to it. That came as a surprise to CMS Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who on Wednesday thought the pay raise and the funding restoration were two separate items. When I talked to him Wednesday, he was under the impression that above and beyond the teacher pay raises, CMS would be keeping about $23 million or so that had once been slated to go back to the state.

Today, he learned that local school districts were actually getting to keep about $143 million, not $251 million. (The larger figure included not only $85 million for teacher raises but also $27 million for elementary literacy programs, another separate bullet in Wednesday's presentation.) That means the bump for CMS will be about $13 million, not $23 million.

"When they first came out with that press release, they did not pull out the 1.2 percent from the $251 million," Hattabaugh told me today. "It almost came that that was in addition, and that is not the case."

Hattabaugh said he is still "very upbeat." The state budget will still allow CMS employees to get a 3 percent raise, their first raise in four years. "I'd be hard-pressed to see someone veto a 1.2 percent raise when they thought they wouldn't get anything," he said.

Gov. Bev Perdue is considering whether to veto the budget bill. An override vote in the House, it appears, would be close. We said in an editorial in Thursday's Observer that the budget was good enough, and Perdue should let it become law. We still think she should.

It's not clear if Republicans were trying to spin media coverage of the budget by not making clear that the teacher raises were part of the $251 million, or if people across the state just misinterpreted the facts. Sneaky or not, Republicans clearly could have been more explicit, or, better yet, made the full budget available at the same time they unveiled the highlights.

Taylor Batten


Wiley Coyote said...

As I have said...

No amount will ever be enough for an educrat.

Give the 3% raise to teachers and make every school district have a full audit and force them to do what CMS did - "find money".

CUT the CMS budget!

Anon said...

Spoken like a true "non" educator!

Garth Vader said...

Any CMS employee who's unhappy with the raise in this budget is invited to tender their resignation and join the 100,570,000 working-age Americans who don't have jobs at all.

cooldela1966 said...

How is it we have students graduating from every school in the state who are going on to universities all over the country? How are they succeeding if the system is so under funded? Why are so many succeeding in this system? Could there be some other reason other than money?

Garth Vader said...

@ Cooldela,

The universities accepting those students don't care about educational standards anymore, they care about pumping up enrollments and making more and more debt slaves via student loans.