Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CMS budget candor gets rocky start

You may have heard Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Chair Eric Davis make an impassioned speech yesterday about the importance of candor and communication in 2011 budget talks.

Or maybe you didn't. If you pooped out after, say, three or four hours of last night's six-hour board meeting, you missed the budget talk, which took place from 10:45 to 11:30 p.m.

If you did stay up, you watched the board whip through 49 PowerPoint pages of budget data, as well as an analysis of how much money could be saved by various busing cutbacks. But you couldn't have followed along, because those documents hadn't been provided to the public.

At its best, CMS does a fine job of presenting public information on its Web site. There's a link for budget information, where the reports presented last night were posted today.

There's also webstreaming of televised board meetings. Davis and Superintendent Peter Gorman bumped up the value of that service by announcing last night that they'll find the money to videotape special budget sessions in 2011 without tapping the education budget. Gorman talked about getting grants or donations to cover the estimated $10,000 cost, while Davis, Rhonda Lennon and Tim Morgan have voiced willingness to give up some of their budgeted travel money.

Still, Tuesday's kickoff of 2011 budget talks wasn't CMS at its best.

The budget session was scheduled after four long presentations, guaranteeing a late-night time slot. Davis said today that "we just had a lot to cover," and all the items were important.

Anyone who was interested in the previous four reports, on transportation, testing, performance pay and teacher effectiveness ratings, could click on the online agenda and check out details in advance. Except that the transportation documents did not include the item of highest public interest: An analysis of savings generated by busing cuts.

And looking at the agenda item for the budget was a study in contrasts. No detailed documents there; just this description: "An update will be provided on the 2011-2012 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education budget."

On Monday, I left Davis a voice mail asking for specifics. I e-mailed him, Gorman and spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry, asking for documents and details that would let me tell readers what to expect. Davis deferred to Gorman and Henry. Gorman e-mailed that he wasn't aware of any documents.

The only clue came from a press release sent late Monday afternoon, saying CMS officials would talk about possible busing cuts at Wednesday's news conference. Based on that, I called Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain, who provided an outline of what would be on the table Tuesday night.

As for documents, printouts of the budget PowerPoint were handed out at the start of the meeting. The busing analysis was released only after Transportation Director Carol Stamper referred to it during the meeting.

Henry said the reports weren't ready until shortly before the meeting, and the delay in handing out the transportation analysis was a mix-up. I don't doubt her word. But I have some experience with priorities and deadlines, and I can tell you this: If the head honcho makes it clear that getting information out before the meeting is a priority, the staff will make it happen.

There's nothing easy about getting the community to buy into painful decisions about budget cuts. Some people will stick to sound-bite criticisms and simplistic solutions no matter what CMS leaders do.

But I've been impressed by the number of people willing to work hard at understanding complex education issues and relay good information to their PTAs, neighbors and friends. Those are the folks Davis, Gorman and the board need to work with.

"Hopefully CMS will keep everyone posted about their discussions coming up," wrote one parent who attended the meeting and e-mailed me today to see where she could get the busing analysis. "I realize they have a dismal budget to work with, but right now a lot of parents are scared what is going to happen. We just want to be part of the process to come up with solutions."


wiley coyote said...

There's nothing easy about getting the community to buy into painful decisions about budget cuts.

I can buy into any sound, well thought out rational cuts, but when CMS continues to pull the same shenannigans it always does, that's where they lose a large portion of the public.

This summer, reworking magnet transportation was "projected" to save $3.5 million. Maybe we;ll have a clue at the end of this school year when someone runs the numbers, but who knows.

Then about 6 weeks later, CMS basically scraps that plan because 10 schools need to be closed, lines redrawn with magnet programs and neighborhood schools thrown into chaos.

Even todays headline in the Observer states it this way:
Ending rides for magnets, other schools could trim $18.5 million - or a lot less

That's the problem with CMS, too many projections with no real cost basis to back it up. Heck I've even been told by CMS this:
4. The total number of magnet students who qualify to ride a bus and the actual number who rode (last school year)? A breakout between home school magnet bus riders v. out of home school area riders.

The district tracks actual ridership. Who is eligible and who actually rides---we don’t track magnet vs. non-magnet school riders.
Gotta love that response.

Rhonda Lennon stated a really nice little ditty last night:
Rhonda Lennon noted that students who live near school are the cheapest to bus, and said eliminating their rides makes little sense.

Rhonda, that's like the fire department telling people they won't respond to house fires over one mile from their station because it costs less to respond to one closer to the station. Surely you can come up with a better solution than the one you stated.

CMS still has tens of millions yet to cut.

I'm still waiting for high school and middle school sports to be axed, afterall, academics is the core principle, right?

The Mission of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is to maximize academic achievement by every student in every school. Effective school-based leadership and teaching, differentiated staffing, and equitable and differentiated allocation of resources as expressed in Policy ADA (Equitable Distribution of Resources) have the greatest potential impacts on individual student learning. In addition, an effective student assignment plan can contribute to positive, supportive learning environments. The Board of Education is committed to creating such environments.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education commits to these Principles for student assignment issues and to the decision-making rubric to guide our Superintendent and staff.

I see academics as being the key. Not sports.

therestofthestory said...

I will add another subject. When the CO did the piece on suburban class sizes, the CMS spokesperson said CMS (ivory tower) did not track class sizes.

Okay, so can you say a clueless ivory tower? Much like their knowledge and (lack of) interest in TFA performance, discipline issues, (lack of) academic value obtained from all the extra money thrown at many programs, etc.

therestofthestory said...

By the way, I put a request into publicinfo over the weekend and I have not heard one peep from them yet.

Anonymous said...

Try to imagine a CEO trying to distribute information on the budget via video to the grunts on CMS e-mail. Then consider that most of the serfs couldn't even view it due to Microsoft program incompatibility. Many thought it was spam. Maybe an action plan for CMS communications is in order? Technology in every lesson plan? Nice artifact. Way to go, Brownie. You Tube still works.

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting a response from Latarza Henry's shop. I've tried for over 2 months with many emails and phone messages to get one simple piece of information - and not so much as a returned phone call or email. Worthless.

Anonymous said...

noPerhaps some of these folks will realize that when you cut the communications office in half, there might just be an impact.

JAT said...

Those CMS docs are insulting.

Ann Doss Helms said...

If you're really hitting a brick wall getting public info, shoot me a note at We're interested in knowing how the system works for non-reporters as well as media.

K S Helms said...

The magnet transportation scheme is a joke. I have always driven my daughter to Northwest (and Dilworth before that). I still do, even though I have to be at work at 8:30 and school doesn't start until 9:15. I drop her off around 8:00. That means my daughter stands outside for about an hour before school. That wasn't such a big deal until it got cold. While I believe germs cause sickness, not cold weather, my daughter has now missed almost of week of school due to a severe cold.
So the next time someone wants to whine about how the magnets get too much support, I would love to tell them to drink a big old glass of shut the h#** up. We magnet parents and students truly care about the school and the curriculum so we make sacrifices to ensure our kids go to the school. The schools where the parents and students don't care as much are the ones sucking up all the dollars.
Think of it this way...we need quality teachers. Teachers that have to be students first. When you have a school full of students and parents that are passionate about education, enough to go out of their way to get to school rather than wait on a bus to stop at every flipping block in the neighborhood or put in that extra time for whatever is needed to succeed, or even stand out in the cold because the school hours make no sense, some of those students will one day become teachers. Those teachers will have the passion about an education that all teachers should have.
So back up off the magnet schools. There are so many kids in magnet schools that are coming from a neighborhood where few if any will ever go to college and that magnet is their key to a future that they would not have. Harding is a prime example of CMS messing with success. As a Harding alumni, I have always been proud of what happened with the magnet programs there. Those kids can unlock the riches of the world with what they learn there. Why are certain people on the school board trying to stop that (McElrath and Waddell)? Why are you trying to keep those kids from being everything they could be?
I know this is rambling, but I am so angry at all of this nonsense. Where is the common sense in all of this commotion?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Gorman has always controlled the flow of information while professing to "transparency". ( I hate that word - why not a little "honesty" instead.)

You are right - if Gorman would've wanted that information earlier, it would have been received earlier. CMS is always soliciting input from the public that they have no intention of using. Peter Gorman is a con man who fancies himself a "CEO" buy couldn't survive a month in a large corporation.

Anonymous said...

That was some board meeting last night.I am teacher for CMS and I could not believe how Ann Clark fumbled over information about LEAP(SLO). I admire Ann very much. She has worked hard for CMS for many years, but trying to justify Gorman's program had her sounding unprepared and not truthful. The truth is teachers despise SLO. It is not a true measure of student growth, teachers are forced to participate in it,and it is also very frustrating because the technology never works. It also was very strange to see Gorman turn beet red and very angry when asked questions about pay for performance. He is trying to hide the fact that he wants to take teacher's Master pay, National Board money and summer supplement to pay for it. Then he tried to pretend that teachers can speak up with out reprimand-every teacher knows he is vindictive and that he hates teachers.

therestofthestory said...

Ann, I have not heard from that office yet. But I did a little more digging and found out which office is responsible for what I wanted so I sent an email to the executive staff person and got an answer from one of their assistants.