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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Youth Summit

Jalen Feaster (Mallard Creek) leads the dialogue about student leadership and government decisions

Save the date: May 3, 6-8PM

We had such a good turnout and great time at the March summit, we are going to meet again! Community leaders are making a lot of decisions about things that impact children and youth - budgets, libraries, schools, parks, police, tests and more. Find out how you can get involved and make a difference.

All high school students are invited to the free event. This means you - if you are in an official leadership role (student council, clubs, etc.) or if you just want to make a difference.

Contact or 704-343-6999 to sign up or ask questions.

In the meantime, learn more and get involved
Crossroads Charlotte Get Real report about Youth Summit budget discussion
Connect to Youth Voice/Leadership Alliance, our teen civic leadership program
Read what students have to say - and voice your own opinion - about community issues 
How students can make a difference for schools and the community

Monday, March 28, 2011

In the City

What's the first thing you would you do if you were the mayor of Charlotte or serving as a city council district representative? Would you build roads? Make Charlotte's airport the best in the world? Give more of your budget money to CMS?

If you said roads or the airport, you've been doing your homework on the city government. The city and county each have different services and responsibilities.

Different governments, different services

While the county deals with services and issues that touch people - such as schools, parks, libraries, social services and jails - the city's services focus a little more on business and infrastructure. Here's a quick breakdown:

Charlotte City Government services
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport
  • Economic Development
  • Fire 
  • Garbage and Recycling
  • Neighborhood Development
  • Neighborhood Improvements
  • Planning and Zoning
  • Police
  • Road Construction
  • Street Maintenance
  • Transit
  • Water and Sewer
Mecklenburg County Government services
  • Libraries
  • Jails
  • Parks
  • Recreation
  • Education (funds part of CMS and CPCC)
  • Human and Social Services  

Governments working together

Sometimes, the city shares services with another level of government. For example, the city and county collaborate on certain issues, such as bringing a company to Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Other times, for example with transportation, there are many different governments involved. Think about roads. Some are built and maintained by the city. Examples include most neighborhood and smaller streets. If you need a sidewalk, light or road repair you can call the city. Others  are state highways, and are built and maintained by the state. Examples: Wilkinson, Independence, Albemarle, Providence, Pineville-Matthews. The city has to wait for the state to make a repair or improvement, or take money out of the city budget to make the repairs it needs to keep streets safe. It then asks the state to pay the city back for those repairs. When the state has its own budget issues, sometimes this repayment is delayed a long time.

City Council Focus Areas
The city divides its services and priorities into what it calls Focus Areas. This helps the city leaders and staff to focus on key strategies and priorities, even when there are other interesting opportunities for the city to get involved in.
  • Housing & Neighborhood Development - The Housing & Neighborhood Development Focus is an initiative designed to comprehensively deal with economic development and quality of life issues in Charlotte's older urban neighborhoods and business areas.
  • Community Safety - The committee's charge is to focus the Council on initiatives to reduce crime and make the most effective use of City government resources in making Charlotte a safer community. 
  • Transportation - As a regional growth center Charlotte needs to upgrade and expand its transportation infrastructure and services including a regional network view.  The charge of the Transportation Committee is to look at local issues as well as direct the vote of the local representative to the regional council. 
  • Economic Development - Because a strong economic environment is essential for the community's long term health the Economic Development Committee works to provide direction that supports development of an educated and trained work force, fosters partnerships to aid local economic growth, retains and attracts quality businesses, supports business development and contributes to the economy
  • Environmental  - The Charlotte City Council is taking measures to safeguard the environment by focusing the City's priorities on this area. 
  • Other Committees - In addition to the Focus Area Committee the City Council also meets in committee to discuss important issues such as the budget, government efficiency, and how the city government works with other governments.


Many people think the city is in charge of the schools. While in some cities, such as New York or Washington, the mayor is in charge of the schools as part of the city's services, Charlotte's government is different. The schools are managed by the superintendent, governed by the school board, and funded by the county and state. The city has no official role.

Budget process
The city goes through a budget process that is similar to the county, CMS and other governments. City leaders meet to plan strategies and goals for the year. The city council members create lists of priorities they want to make sure get funded. The city manager takes that information and creates a budget. He recommends the budget in May. After that, the council reviews it, hears from citizens (who often want to reduce one item or increase another) and finalizes the budget. The council votes on the budget in June and it becomes official.

Learn more
Watch or attend a city council meeting
Speak at city council meeting
City council budget process
City budget
Budgets for city and towns
Contact mayor and city council
Contact city manager's office
Read Focus Area Plans and Strategies
YouthCivics agenda and handouts
YouthCivics presentation
Contact Kids Voting for classroom materials about local government including editable presentation

Monday, March 21, 2011

CMS: School board, budgets and decisions

Here's a math lesson. Did you know that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has to create a budget before it knows how much money it will be able to spend? That's because the school district does not control the revenue (money it receives). It comes from the county, the state and other sources. 

CMS Budget

How much is the CMS budget? In 2010-11, the budget is $1.15 billion. That includes:
  • Average per-student spending of $8,523 (for over 135,000 K-12 students)
  • 16,000 employees including over 8,500 full-time teachers
    • Beginning teacher salary is $34,386. CMS budget average for teachers is $45,435.
  • 178 schools including 100 elementary, 36 middle, 33 high, 4 alternative schools and 5 pre-K sites (plus 612 mobile classrooms!)
How does CMS create the budget? As with other governments, CMS plans the budget for several months.
  • People on the CMS staff estimate how many students will attend CMS, and where - this helps to determine the number of teachers and classrooms needed.
  • At planning meetings early in the year, the superintendent and school board work together to decide the important strategic goals for CMS - this helps to determine what goes in the budget.
  • In the winter and spring, the superintendent announces what he intends to put in his budget, and then he makes a formal budget recommendation (scheduled for April 12).
  • After that, the school board - and public - will review and discuss the budget proposal. The public can speak about the budget at different times, including at a public hearing (official chance to speak about the budget) on April 26. The school board can make changes and then plans to adopt the budget on May 10.

State and county government

Is that where it ends? No, in some ways that's only the beginning. CMS receives most of its money from the county and state. The county and state don't finalize their budgets until June.

Follow the county and state budget processes. We'll post more information about that, too.

When it is not working on budgets, what do school leaders do?
  • The superintendent oversees daily CMS operations, keeps the school board and public informed about CMS and implements policies established by the school board.
    • The superintendent, Peter Gorman, welcomes questions and feedback from students
  • The school board is responsible for:
    • Hiring, firing and evaluating the superintendent
    • Establishing school district policy
    • Determining budgets
    • Approving school assignment boundaries
    • Overseeing the management of the district's major systems (curriculum, teachers, transportation, etc.)
Student involvement

Besides going to school, how can students get involved in what happens at CMS and the community?
  • Watch or attend government meetings
  • Serve in a leadership role. If you want to make a difference, that makes you a leader.
  • If you are not sure what's available, ask your principal, a teacher or other students. If no one knows how leaders can get involved, start your own leadership club.
  • Join the youth leadership alliance, Youth Voice. This is a program of Kids Voting Mecklenburg. It provides students with opportunities to get involved in school and local government policies, have important conversations with officials, build leadership skills and make a difference.

Learn more
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
CMS Board of Education
Watch the school board meetings

North Carolina Department of Public Information
NC Board of Education
Example of CMS budget - 2010-11 adopted budget
CMS Legislative Agenda - some examples of state government connections with schools
Read about education news, policies and more - great opportunities for students to comment on news
Mecklenburg County information

Compare CMS budgets and other school districts in New York, Washington, Boston, LA and even Raleigh

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mecklenburg County: Government, budget and services

Budget time!In winter and spring, many governments go through their budget processes. It is a great way to learn about government services, priorities, leaders and opportunities for citizen involvement. Figuring out how much money to budgetMecklenburg County's budget process kicks off in January with reviews of the economy and leadership meetings where priorities are defined. Through the winter and spring, the county staff revises estimates on how much money it will receive for the coming year. For the county, the year begins July 1 and ends June 30.Budgets are sometimes variable, because the money the government receives from taxes, fees and other sources, varies depending on the economy and other factors. Even when the budget is set, the money the county receives (and then spends) can increase or decrease through the year.What goes in the budgetThe county funds a variety of services, such as education, jails, parks, libraries, health and programs for special populations (such as children, elderly, disabled and veterans). Through the budget process, the county manager and staff provide information to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) about county services and priorities. Some services are mandated, meaning by law they have to be provided and sometimes at a certain level. Other services are discretionary, which means the county chooses to provide those services for the community. A list of mandated services is included in the resources below.With a certain amount of money to budget, the county leaders sometimes must make tough decisions. Some things get funded, some get reduced and some get cut.  When it happensThe BOCC defines its budget priorities for the county manager. The county manager prepares a budget and presents it in May. Between May and when the budget is finalized in June, the public has a final opportunity to speak publicly and contact officials about the budget. This is a chance to make your voice heard. Get informed You can follow the budget process in the news, on Twitter (search for #meckbocc - you do not need an account) and on the county website.Here's a little more information about the county government, leaders, budget and ways to get involved. Let us know what else you want to learn about the county government and budget process! YouthCivics_Mecklenburg_Cty
View more presentations from Kids Voting Charlotte and Mecklenburg

Learn more
BOCC ranking of services in preparation for FY2012 budget 
List of county services by category, with mandated services noted
FY 2011 budget ordinance
Mecklenburg County Open Government - Reports, public documents and more
Map of commissioner districts
Watch meetings online
Download Kids Voting/YouthCivics Mecklenburg County presentation and handouts (session agenda, questions, MeckBOCC contact info and representation)*
County government website
County government on social media
Legislative agenda - some examples of county and state government intersecting

Watch for future posts about the city, towns and state governments and budgets.

Teachers: these resources are great for Civics & Economics classes plus social studies and language arts (informational text) in other grades, and align to the NC Standard Course of Study. Contact us for more information.

* email Kids Voting for copies including editable PPT

Friday, March 11, 2011


Nearly everyone is watching events unfold with the news of the massive Japan earthquake, and resulting tsunami.

The earthquake hit off the coast of northern Japan. The quake caused significant damage and then caused a tsunami, which swept through parts of the country including the Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate Prefectures. The tsunami also headed toward islands and continental shorelines across the Pacific.

This is a tragic and historic event - and one that provides an opportunity to learn about government, leadership, civics, communications, collaboration and making comparisons.

Some questions to think about:

  • What is a prefecture? Which level of US government is the closest in structure and governing authority?
  • What kind of government does Japan have? What are the similarities and differences with US government?
  • How will the earthquake impact Japan's economy? government? schools? citizens? leaders?  history?
  • What are the connections to the US economy, government and schools?
  • When a natural disaster strikes a city, who's in charge? What are the roles of citizens and leaders? What about the media?
  • What are some examples of other natural disasters? How did they impact the economy? government? schools? citizens? leaders? history?
  • If you were the Prime Minister of Japan, the Governor of Miyagi Prefecture, the Mayor of Sendai, how would you manage this crisis? What would you say to the citizens? How would you mobilize other leaders?
  • If you were the head of another country or city, how would you react? Would you send support to Japan - and if so, what kind? Would you use this example to make sure your city or country is ready for a disaster?
  • Do other countries, such as the United States, have an obligation to help other countries in these situations? What kinds of factors come into play - consider humanitarian, political and economic impacts both in the US and globally.
  • Are some countries better prepared to handle crisis? How and why?
  • The US National Weather Service plays a critical role in issuing tsunami warnings for the Pacific. Why?
  • If you were writing the headline about the earthquake, what would it be? Check out the headlines used by news sources. Were you close? Different? Why do you think some news stories focus on specific parts, or angles, of a story?
  • What can Japanese students do to help their country recover from the earthquake and tsunami?
Learn more