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The $3.4 million question for CMS: Will teacher raises grow this fall?

A teacher works with first-graders at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in March.
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
A teacher works with first-graders at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in March.

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools took its final 2024-25 budget plan to the county, the district added $3.4 million to match what was looking like larger-than-budgeted raises for teachers and other state-paid employees.

The state’s two-year budget, approved in 2023, contained raises averaging only 3%. But CMS officials concluded — and county commissioners agreed — that state lawmakers were likely to approve something close to 4.5%. It’s standard practice for the General Assembly to approve a revised one-year budget during short sessions.

But lawmakers adjourned last week without agreeing on a budget update, even though the House and Senate both have veto-proof Republican majorities. They had to pass a stopgap measure to ensure that teachers got any raises at all for 2024-25.

So that would appear to leave CMS with $3.4 million in county money to reallocate — except that the adjournment resolution includes several dates when the General Assembly will reconvene to discuss specific matters.

Charles Jeter, a former state legislator who’s now the CMS staff person overseeing policy and relations with the General Assembly, says CMS leaders met Monday morning to talk about how to respond to a budget that’s maybe settled and maybe not.

“Right now we just don’t know. I mean, this baby was just born and we’re trying to figure out how to get it bottle-fed,” he said. “We’ve never had a situation like this. Not in my 15 years of being involved in state politics.”

It’s common for budget years to start on July 1 without a state budget approved, but Jeter said that normally it’s clear that the two chambers are still working on a plan. Now the superintendent and the school board have to decide whether to take the adjournment at face value and approve a budget with the raises averaging 3% or wait to see whether there’s an increase.

Jeter noted that districts across North Carolina are in a similar state of uncertainty.

He said he’s not optimistic about an increase, but he’d be surprised if CMS made new plans for the county money before early September. He says that’s the earliest the General Assembly could come back with higher raises — unless they were to vote to call a special session.

“I would think it would be a fool’s errand for us to start spending any money that was allocated for salaries until we are 100% certain we know what the state’s going to do,” he said.

If state raises stay at 3%, the county money could still be applied toward salaries. But without the state money the county money would have to be spread among far more teachers and the increase would be much smaller.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.