CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ranks 109th among North Carolina’s 115 school districts in terms of per-pupil spending of state funding, and there’s not a lot the district can do to change that.
Leanne Winner, government relations director for the North Carolina School Boards Association, explained how the state funds school districts to the Municipal Education Advisory Committee on Jan. 15 at Cornelius Town Hall.
Winner said that while we often think about state funding in terms of following a child, the state makes 44 allotments to fund positions and services, with students serving only as part of the calculation.
CMS doesn’t qualify for allocations designated for low wealth counties or small districts. Smaller districts may have less turnover, resulting in longer tenured teachers that command higher salaries, she said.
While the state is primarily responsible to provide current expenses for school districts, county government is responsible for funding capital dollars, according to Winner.
“Those lines have gotten very blurry through the years,” she said. “Across the state, we spend over $3 billion in local dollars for current expense. If that money could be spent on capital instead, we would not have a school construction problem in this state, which is currently sitting at $8 billion.”
Mecklenburg County voters passed a $922 million bond referendum in 2017, but CMS has identified more than $2 billion in pressing capital needs. Such needs include building new schools in fast growing areas and renovating aging buildings.
School board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart wants to compare the percentage of local tax dollars that counties provide to school districts. If CMS is far off, additional local funding could help CMS close the gap on its construction needs.
“Most school districts in the state also have locally paid teachers, because the allotment from the state is not enough to cover all their classrooms and because children do not also come in neat little packages of 16, 17, 18 students,” Winner said.
Districts tend to pay their least experienced teachers with local dollars, because they are cheaper, she added.
CMS spends $2,493.60 per pupil from local dollars. That ranks 26th highest in the state, with the average at about $2,306.31 and the highest being Chapel Hill/Carrboro spending $6,234.92.
CMS spends $9,178.36 per pupil when you factor local, state and federal dollars, which ranks 90th among the 115 districts.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools created the Municipal Education Advisory Committee to communicate with municipalities about growth patterns, capital needs and safety, said committee chair Elyse Dashew.
“By coming to understand the parameters, complexities and nuances in which schools and school systems operate, we’re laying the groundwork for real, effective, smart, creative problem-solving solutions together,” Dashew said. “Our kids are counting on us to collaborate on their behalf.”