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.”
Reviewing attendance figures
CMS shared with the committee a presentation it gave to the school board in November on school capacity.
Charlotte schools educate 1,489 students from Matthews (1,017 via home assignment and 142 via school choice) and 198 students from Mint Hill (144 via home assignment and 54 via school choice).
Sixty-five percent of the 5,908 students attending school in Matthews live in Matthews. About 34 percent of the student population lives in Charlotte (1,591 via home assignment and 429 by school choice).
About 9.7 percent of the 4,372 students attending Mint Hill Schools actually live in Mint Hill. Charlotte claims 68.6 percent of that (2,800 via home assignment and 201 by school choice). Matthews has 21.1 percent (910 via home school and 12 via school choice).
Akeisha Craven-Howell, associate superintendent for school choice, mentioned two takeaways from this data.
First, school choice is important for the district. Staff wants students to choose schools or programs that align with their interests, whether that is medical sciences or Japanese.
Second, the county, particularly Charlotte, is experiencing significant demographic shifts.
“We may have built a school in one place, because that was a population center at one time, but now population are shifting,” Craven-Howell said, noting some schools may also be close to municipal boundaries.
Matthews Commissioner Jeff Miller and Ellis-Stewart both had questions about the costs of mobile classrooms and how they translate to brick and mortar schools. School staff sought more time after the meeting to pull accurate numbers for them.