CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison has put a price tag on his vision for the district. He wants Mecklenburg County and the state to pitch in an extra $27 million next year to help fund new programs and expand others. Those include bringing more technology to classrooms and creating career and technical specialties at schools. The plan also calls for 10 new positions to help schools coordinate with companies and groups wanting to help.
WFAE’s Lisa Miller was at last night’s meeting and joins Morning Edition host Duncan McFadyen in the studio.
DM: Lisa, we’ve heard Morrison talk a lot about technology. What’s his plan for it?
LM: CMS has certainly been expanding its use of tablets and smart phones in the classroom. But, if you think of it, in order for kids to start using the internet for class projects, schools need wireless internet systems that can handle a lot of traffic. The district has been installing those this year and they hope to get all classrooms wired by the start of next school year. And that includes mobile classrooms, as well. Those pretty much don’t have any Wi-Fi access right now. And also, when you think of kids bringing their own devices, there are several schools doing that, but Morrison wants to provide schools with tablets that classrooms can share. This whole technology piece is the largest chunk of the new requests.
DM: Okay, let’s talk about these ten positions to help schools partner with outside groups that want help. What are those all about?
LM: Yes, so the CMS board expects to get the most flak for this. The idea behind this is basically each person would be responsible for 4-to-5 schools. They’d go in, see what those schools need. So when companies say they want help, they can give them a list and simply say, “here’s what you can do.” And then make sure that gets done. Right now, Morrison says this falls to the principals to deal with and they have a lot on their plate.
MORRISON: We do this ask. We have a business, faith-based partner come forward and then things get lost and people get upset. So we’re really excited about this. We think that at a time of other resources being challenged, it’s going to be our best way to tap into the strength of this community.
DM: So what does the school board think of this?
LM: They seem to like it.
DM: We’ve heard Morrison talk a lot about creating more choice within CMS as well.
LM: Yeah, so that’s interesting. CMS has long wait lists for many of its magnet programs, including those focusing on foreign languages and science and technology. And then you have a bunch of new charter schools opening next year. And you can tell, CMS is feeling some competition from them. Here’s what Morrison said last night.
MORRISON: We want to make sure that we are, to use the words being nimble, offering those opportunities and not having someone else come along and say, “You know, that Morehead STEM has 1,400 students on the waiting list, if CMS doesn’t want to do something, why don’t we do something?”
LM: So CMS is certainly working on adding options for students.
DM: So what kind of options will we see next year?
LM: We’d likely see some schools specializing in certain areas. North Mecklenburg, Olympic, and Phillip O. Berry high schools would serve as centers for career technical courses. So kids from other schools can transfer there or take courses there. Then we have Hawthorne high school offering a health sciences curriculum for kids already enrolled there. They would use labs at CPCC’s main campus. And Morrison also wants to have a school on CPCC’s Levine campus in Matthews where kids can take community college courses there for credit.
DM: And what is the likelihood that Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools will get all the extra funding for next year that Morrison’s requested?
LM: Well, of course, that’s the question. CMS points to about $9 million in cuts that it will make. But with money for more students and then these new initiatives, the district is looking at a $35 million increase in its budget. And CMS board member Rhonda Lennon last night urged Morrison to come up with a plan B.
LENNON: I’m hearing a few rumblings out there. Visited Raleigh last week and saw a few folks and talked to a couple commissioners here at the county level that we might need to start thinking about a plan B, which is no extra money from the county available. They have this little issue with property revaluation going on right now that may definitely effect their tax revenue.
LM: It’s hard to judge with the state. Governor McCrory has come out with his budget and CMS based the budget on that, but the house and senate still have to weigh.
Proposed budget also includes:
$1.4 million for picking up Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams fees, plus Career Technology certification fees.
$1.2 million for literacy help
$3.7 million for adding staff at elementary and middle schools to help teachers integrate technology into class work and upgrade to the Common Core curriculum