Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Clayton Wilcox presented an ambitious budget to school board members last night that will require an increase of $40 million from the county. Wilcox’s budget calls for additional security at schools, a pay raise for teachers and more mental health care support for students.
Wilcox says his $1.5 billion budget (https://www.ourkidsneedus.org/) for the next fiscal year reflects the priorities he and CMS officials heard from residents in community meetings the district held this year. He says he also used data from reports that showed economic mobility will not happen for many residents if the local education system is not significantly improved on several fronts.
“This budget is not just a budget request but a call to action,” Wilcox said. “A call to action around creating safe schools for all of our young children.”
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Wilcox’s budget asks for $9 million to add hardened doors, glass reinforcement, perimeter fencing, additional locks, and real-time cameras at schools to protect students. He also wants more than $600,000 for nine security-related positions, including 5 additional CMS police officers.
“Many of these folks are integral to school and safety, making sure our facilities are able to be shut down if need be,” Wilcox said.
Parents have often talked about a lack of sufficient mental health professionals in district schools. Wilcox’s budget requests $4.4 million to hire 33 additional elementary school counselors, 17 social workers and 10 school psychologists. He says student behavior records, counselor referral reports and suspension and absentee data will be used to determine where the new mental health support staff will be placed. Wilcox also wants $7 million in additional local funding to provide about a $500 raise for teachers, on top of the average raise of 7 percent coming from the state.
“For those people who would try to say $7 million is too much for our teachers, I would argue today that $7 million was a very respectful ask from our county commissioners but it didn’t help a lot of our teachers out significantly,” he said.
The budget also includes $1.5 million for 20 new teachers for English Language Learners and $3.8 million for a digital literacy program.
The budget was well received by school board members. Elyse Dashew called it sound and reflective of what they have been hearing from the community.
“This budget request is clearly aligned with what our children need,” Dashew said. “There’s no fluff in this. This is a strategic budget that will make a big difference for our educators and children.”
Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart questioned whether the number of mental health hires requested is enough, but she says she realizes the issue won’t be solved overnight.
“This budget is not a panacea for the challenges but it is a first step and, hopefully, it will be a consistent step. I think this begins to get us back on track," said Ellis-Stewart.
School board members will hold work sessions and public hearings on the budget with a vote set for May 8. After that it goes to the county commission.