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Friday, May 14, 2010

Charlotte Schools' Administrators Firing Teachers In Front Of Students (Budget Cuts)

Teacher: CMS Gave Her Lay-off Notice In Front Of Class

A teacher at West Charlotte High School was upset Thursday after she said she received a layoff notice in front of her students.

Tabitha Miller, a Spanish instructor, told NewsChannel 36 she was handed a letter by principal Shelton Jeffries and asked to sign an a document acknowledging her dismissal at the end of the school year.

"I’m not bitter about losing my job," Miller said. "I’m just very upset about the way in which it was done."

Jeffries could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Cynthia Robbins Shah-Khan, said she had no information on how the layoffs were handled at West Charlotte and could not comment.

About 360 instructors in CMS were expected to receive layoff notices Thursday, Robbins Shah-Khan said.

Miller, who has taught in CMS for 3 years, said she mistakenly registered for the wrong class when completing her teaching certification by a June 30 deadline.

She said she anticipates completing the requirements for her license by July 2, but said district representatives were not able to grant a waiver.

"I don’t think they treat us like people who have feelings and families," Miller said.

The layoff notices come as the school district faces up to a $78 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. As many as 1,000 employees could be trimmed from the payroll.

Students at West Charlotte High School told NewsChannel 36 they witnessed at least two teachers receive layoff notices in their classroom with students present.

Sophomore Xavier Wilkes said, while he did not witness the delivery of the notices, he was disturbed to learn how Miller and at least one other teacher were informed of their job status.

"I didn’t think it was very professional," said Wilkes. "I thought they could have pulled them to the side or told them after school. They could have done it in another way."

500 CMS Teachers Getting Lay-Off Warnings

About 500 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers will get preliminary layoff notices Wednesday, hours after the school board voted 6-3 to approve a 2010-11 budget that braces for big cuts.

The board voted to ask the county for a $15.5 million boost while planning for a cut of up to $20.7 million. With state cuts, the total could come to $78 million.

The board made only small changes to the $1 billion-plus budget that has been discussed for weeks. They voted 7-2 to eliminate CMS-TV, with about $350,000 going to save about seven teacher jobs.

To avoid forcing three popular magnet schools into later hours, the board instead decided to save $1.3 million by making students pick up the fees for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

Superintendent Peter Gorman and board members say the $332.8 million request, up from this year’s $317.4 million, is what the district needs to hold steady as costs and enrollment rise. They also realize the county doesn’t have that kind of money without making dire cuts to other vital services.

“The county commission’s going to send it back to us. We understand that,” board member Joe White said.

That’s why the plan includes five alternative scenarios eliminating up to $78 million in county and state money, with options that include laying off hundreds of employees. The board had earlier cleared Gorman to cut about 600 teachers, but Chief Operating Officer Hugh Hattabaugh said before Tuesday’s meeting that the numbers “look a little better than we anticipated.”

He said 170 teachers will lose their jobs because of low job ratings and/or lack of proper licenses. Another 20 in that category would have gotten layoff notices but have already resigned, he said.

Also getting preliminary notices are 240 teachers who are working on short-term contracts and 99 whose skills don’t match any available jobs. The 99 could still be placed if jobs open up. Layoffs are not final until a board vote, scheduled for June.

The number of teacher jobs eliminated by retirements has not been tallied, Hattabaugh said.

Cutting teachers will mean bigger classes, with high schools losing some of their specialized offerings that draw low enrollment.

Most members said Gorman did a good job of shaping a bleak budget to protect kids and classrooms as much as possible.

“I deeply regret the pain this has caused,” board Chair Eric Davis said, speaking to employees who will lose jobs. But he urged everyone to “commit ourselves anew to our students’ future.”

Board members Kaye McGarry, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell voted against the budget. They were on the losing end of votes to try to force Gorman to revamp his shakeup of administrative offices, with up to $3.6 million redirected to save teacher jobs.

McElrath and Waddell argued that grouping CMS’s highest-poverty schools under two “central” offices stigmatizes and segregates those schools. But other members said it’s student assignment, not administrative arrangements, that concentrate low-income and minority students in some schools.

McGarry said CMS remains “top-heavy.”

A much-protested plan to revoke neighborhood bus stops for 11 magnet schools survived Tuesday’s vote, leaving families worrying about losing students whose parents can’t get them to shuttle stops that may not be within walking distance of their homes.

“What will you do to protect access to these schools?” asked Odette Valder, a Northwest School of the Arts parent.

Three of those magnets – Smith Language Academy, Piedmont and Davidson IB middle schools – got a reprieve from proposed changes in their hours. Pushing their schedules later in the day would have let CMS tack their bus runs onto buses serving other schools, saving about $1 million.

Davis Military/Leadership Academy, a combined middle-high, will still move to a schedule that’s two hours later than this year’s, from 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. That saves about $600,000 on bus costs.

The revised budget, introduced Tuesday, requires students to pay for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, a cost now covered by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The state will continue to pay the fees for students who qualify for low-income lunch aid, but CMS can cut almost $1.4 million from the 2010-11 budget by requiring other students to pay.

Each AP exam costs $86. An IB diploma exam costs $135 plus $92 per subject. Many students take exams in several subjects.

The latest revision also frees about $500,000, which can be used to save about 10 teacher jobs, Gorman said.

The N.C. legislature convenes Wednesday to start crafting a 2010-11 budget, and county commissioners will vote on theirs in June. CMS won’t know exactly how much it must cut until those decisions are made.

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Sources: WCNC, Google Maps

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