News & Opinion

CMS Advocates Implore County to Fund Teacher Pay Increases

Parents, teachers want Mecklenburg commissioners to support school district's full budget ask

A CMS teacher speaks in front of the mecklenburg board of county commissioners
Several CMS teachers told the county on Wednesday that they don’t feel supported based on their current pay.

The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners heard public feedback on its upcoming budget on Wednesday, including remarks from over a dozen teachers, parents and advocates of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) who urged the county to give the school district more money.

County commissioners are currently weighing County Manager Dena Diorio’s recommended $2.1 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2023. The spending plan is a $111 million — or %6 — increase from last year and does not include a property tax hike.

Included in the budget is approximately $578 million for CMS, which is $20 million more than last year but covers only half of the additional $40 million the school district has requested.

CMS leaders have said part of the additional funds will go toward expenses the district has no choice but to pay for, such as charter school funding and retirement benefits. The rest will go toward pay increases for teachers, principals, certified staff and teacher assistants, as well as other expenses.

However, Diorio’s recommended funding for CMS doesn’t cover all of the proposed raises and gives the school district half the supplement increase it asked for. (CMS uses county money to supplement state funding in order to bolster paychecks.) 

During a budget workshop on Tuesday, Diorio said CMS teachers have the highest average county supplement in the state and claimed her recommendation to increase the supplement by 5% — instead of the 10% requested by CMS — will ensure they remain that way.

Diorio said CMS could have used lapse salaries (money available when a position is vacant) to fund increases for teacher assistants but is choosing to fund maintenance instead.

“They’re making decisions about how those dollars get spent and so that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mecklenburg County has to make up for that,” Diorio said Tuesday. 

Two county commissioners — Laura Meier and Susan Rodriguez-McDowell — have spoken in support of increasing the proposed pay raises for teachers. 

“Right now our school district is on fire; it’s in a crisis,” Rodriguez-McDowell said during a budget workshop on Tuesday. “When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t bring a measuring cup of water.” 

On Thursday morning following the public forum, Meier tweeted for more community engagement. 

“As it stands, we will not be allocating nearly enough to [CMS]. Only two of us support more funding. We need to hear from you,” she wrote, linking to the page where constituents can find commissioners’ email addresses

Members of the public speak out

Several teachers, parents and education advocates urged the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners during the public hearing on Wednesday to support the school system’s full ask, citing the need for increased raises for teacher assistants and educators across the board.

CMS parent Kate Murphy said she knows the county commissioners and the CMS Board of Education want the same thing, but they can’t underfund and defund their way to equity.

“As you hold CMS accountable, I ask that you hold yourself accountable for some of the obstacles that CMS faces,” Murphy said. “We need affordable housing, we need access to mental-health care and addiction services. These are the things that make the tasks of educators almost impossible.”

“I’m asking you to join in the fight,” she continued. “There are people in this country that want to destroy public education. I know you’re not one of them.”

Ayanna Perry, a social studies teacher at West Charlotte High School, told the board they can’t expect anyone to be successful with only half of what they need, referring to CMS potentially only receiving half of the requested $40 million in additional funds. 

“Imagine if a doctor only gave a patient half a heart, or a teacher only gave a student half of the lesson instead of the whole,” Perry said.

“If you want results for all CMS students, the board needs to give CMS the funding it requires to hire the people that make the difference,” said Erin DeMund, a K-6 teacher at Oaklawn Language Academy.

A mother and her young son speak at a county commissioner meeting
A mother asks the county to give CMS more money so her son’s teachers can make a living wage.

Former high school teacher Bill Fountain said he supports the county not fully funding CMS based on a claim that CMS has wasted money over the years “at the same time student test scores have plummeted.”

He suggested the county withhold funds and conduct an audit of the school district to determine what resources really go toward “teaching the kids content to be college- and career-ready.”

“I know that you’ll find the administrative staff is too large and layered,” Fountain said. “I know in the business world we found that a bloated staff is counter to efficiency.”

Kevin Poirier, assistant principal at West Charlotte High School, said CMS is competing for employees against other jobs and industries with rising salaries, including fast food. Poirier used the term “passion tax,” which he described as a pay cut a person takes in order to do what they love and make a difference. 

“The passion tax we are relying on in our schools right now is not sustainable,” he said.

CMS parent Lisa Yarrow said she has no doubt that CMS needs the full amount it requested. She said the county is asking the school district “to do more with less, yet again.”

“Are our children not worth every penny?” she asked the board. “What value do you put on their lives, on their future? What better investment could we make?”

The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners will hold straw vote sessions on June 15 and 16, during which unofficial votes will be taken to show popular opinion on various budget expenditures. The budget will then be considered for adoption on June 22, as FY2023 begins July 1.

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