Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The tech-money shuffle

How did Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools end up with $10 million in county money to spend on iPads and other technology improvements this year? The budget maneuver was so complex that even board members who voted for it in July were asking questions, and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley created a flow chart to explain it (read it on page 5 of this budget presentation).

Here's how it worked:  Last spring,  as then-Superintendent Peter Gorman and the board were planning the 2011-12 budget,  CMS planned to pay for clerical and custodial jobs with a mix of county money and temporary federal aid.  But when the state budget approved in June was better than CMS had anticipated,  there was money to cover the county share and free up $28 million (commissioners had just granted CMS a $26 million bump).

CMS didn't use that money to hire more staff because officials realized the federal money that was paying for secretaries and custodians would disappear in 2012-13, Shirley said this week.  Instead,  CMS tapped that money for one-time projects in 2011-12, including technology, maintenance projects that had been put off and the cost of moving several administrative offices.  In 2012-13,  the county money will go back into the budget for clerical and custodial staff.

None of that got much attention at the time,  given the hullabaloo over averting teacher layoffs and saving prekindergarten classrooms.  Gorman and his staff had spent months talking about laying off hundreds of teachers and other employees to prepare for an anticipated $100 million in cuts.  When the board voted 8-1 for the final 2011-12 budget in July (only Kaye McGarry opposed it),  the minutes show their comments focused on their delight at being able to restore 1,665 jobs for teachers and other school staff.

The technology money got new attention last week,  when CMS invited teams of teachers to make proposals to get  "innovation kits"  that include one iPad per teacher and up to 10 per classroom.

CMS initially said there was about $10 million in county money for that project, including training and "infrastructure upgrades."  Tuesday night, Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said the actual breakdown is $3.5 million for devices such as iPads,  $500,000 for training to help teachers use the new technology and $6.6 million to install wireless internet in all schools.

The $1.2 million CMS spent to give iPads and software to principals and other school administrators didn't come from that $10 million pot,  but from money carried over from the previous budget year,  Shirley said.

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