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Is CMS broke ... or what? 

When my 2-year-old wants something she can't have, she resorts to drama. She gives up quickly when she sees she's not getting anywhere.

Ditto with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. For the past two years, school system leaders have thrown a tantrum my 2-year-old could appreciate, spewing out termination notices to hundreds of teachers and crying about how broke they are — only to hire most of the staff back later. They've told us they are broke so many times that the whole county has begun to repeat it along with them.

In her blog entry "What Cut: CMS Budget up $10 million," The Charlotte Observer's Ann Doss Helms ripped the diaper off the baby. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools isn't broke. Far from it. The system's 2010 budget is up $10 million over the year before. Yes, you read that right. At one point, it looked like there might be a shortfall, but once that was no longer true, the school system just continued playing broke, and only Helms noticed.

Just last week, CMS Board Chairman Eric Davis was doing the oh-so-broke shuffle again, going on about how the system is so busted they have to close schools to keep from firing teachers or something. All of this to save a few million bucks. If they are so broke that they've got to close under-filled schools, I've got some questions for them:

• In 2007, Superintendent Peter Gorman stumped for the largest-ever school bond package, $527 million, to build and renovate dozens of schools. School leaders painted the overcrowding picture as dire. The voters believed them and approved the money. Now we are closing under-used schools to "save money," but there hasn't been a dip in student population. In fact, we added nearly 2,000 students this year. So did we ever really need half a billion dollars for new schools or was that just needless political patronage?

• As recently as April of 2009, Gorman wanted to fast-track the spending of half the $527 million in bond money on new schools, renovation and expansion. He would have had the system spend a staggering $250 million in a single year. That plan fell apart when county leaders realized they were too broke to issue bonds and had hit their debt limit. So, just 18 months ago school leaders were desperate to begin construction of new schools. Yet today they assure us they can save money by closing under-filled schools? Huh?

• As recently as December, the system's appetite for bonds to build schools we apparently didn't need was still insatiable. That month, Gorman chased a potential $52 million in stimulus funded bonds to build at least two new schools, money the system would have to pay back, albeit without interest. Today, less than a year later, the system is proposing the closing of at least six under-filled schools. Yet it added nearly 2,000 additional students this year and seemed to absorb them with no problem.

So were school leaders lying then about needing the bond money for new schools, or are they lying now when they say they have extra space and need to close schools?

And while we're at it, is the school system really even broke? When confronted with pointed questions from the Observer's Helms, system leaders couldn't really explain how you can have a budget $10 million larger than the year before and still be suffering from devastating "cuts."

These are, unfortunately, the same people teaching math and accounting to our children. God help us.

Now if the Observer would just print Helms' revelations in the actual paper, so more people could read them. One of the most important local government news stories of the year shouldn't be relegated to a blog on the newspaper's website.

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