School board members delved into math questions about employee raises and charter school costs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' first budget work session Tuesday.
Tuesday's presentation (CMS plans to post it on the budget page today) included a preliminary suggestion of $17 million to $18 million in county money to provide raises for all employees. A board member asked what size raise that would cover.
On the other hand, if the state provides nothing, CMS would spend about $18 million to give employees a 2 percent raise with county money alone, according to the presentation. Plus, Morrison noted that the plan to boost starting teachers' pay proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders may bring yet-unknown county costs.
In that case, a vague answer was the right one. But when it came to the cost of sending students to charter schools vs. CMS, a teacher should have stepped in.
The presentation projected 2,296 additional charter students next year, with CMS passing along $7.5 million in county money. It also said CMS would need $400,000 from the county for an additional 754 CMS students.
New board member Paul Bailey asked whether such disproportionate numbers could possibly be right. It was a good question. The charter allotment breaks down to about $3,267 per student, while the CMS total is $530.50 per pupil.
Morrison and Shirley said the costs aren't directly comparable. They explained the system that requires CMS to pass along a per-pupil share of the county allotment for each Mecklenburg student who attends one of the independently-run public schools.
It was a dramatic speech based on a false premise. The per-pupil pass-along to charters has nothing to do with the cost of operating those schools, as Davis most likely knows. In fact, that cost is precisely and by definition the same as the average cost for CMS students, new and existing. That's how it works: However big the county "pie" for education is, each student gets a proportionate slice. The only thing that drives up the size of a charter student's slice is county commissioners' generosity in responding to the CMS request.
I'm not sure exactly what's included in the $400,000 estimate for the addition of 754 CMS students, but it's clearly not the full county cost for their education.
Many of us would love to know which schools deliver the best academic value for the dollar. But looking at those two lines in the CMS presentation won't give us the answer.