Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheaper way to do pre-K?

Is Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spending too much for administration of its Bright Beginnings prekindergarten centers? School board member Rhonda Lennon raised the question last night, as the board discussed asking county commissioners for millions more to preserve the program.

Lennon noted that centers with fewer than 300 children had administrative payrolls of $200,000 or more. A look at the latest payroll data shows she's right. Tryon Hills Preschool, with about 250 students, is paying about $210,000 for a principal, assistant principal, senior administrative secretary and secretary. Amay James, which is about the same size, pays about $246,000 a year for the same staffing combination.

The board already voted last fall to close Amay James at the end of this school year, merging its students into new preK-8 schools. Superintendent Peter Gorman's budget proposal would close the remaining four centers as the federal stimulus money that kept the program at its current size, with about 3,100 4-year-olds, dries up. Under his plan, the remaining 90 Bright Beginnings classrooms would be located in high-poverty elementary schools that qualify for federal Title I aid.

Seven of the nine board members said last night they support asking county commissioners for about $10 million to cover the stimulus gap and keep the program intact (the county had been footing a bigger share of the preK bill before the economy crashed). Lennon said she'd support maintaining the same number of classes, "but not in the current format."

Lennon made no motion, and agreed to cancel a budget meeting scheduled for today, saying she didn't think it was realistic to ask Gorman to draft a new pre-K plan in less than 24 hours. So it remains to be seen whether he'll find a way to save classes while streamlining costs before the board's May 10 vote, or whether the majority of the board expects him to do so.

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