"In my 34 years of education, I've never seen numbers anywhere near this large," Durham Public Schools Interim Superintendent Hank Hurd said."It's just going to become increasingly difficult to protect classrooms."
Hurd says it could mean increased class size, no funds for new textbooks and worse 400 job cuts - 200 of them teachers.
School system leaders are poised to ask the Durham County Commissioners for help with their budget trouble. But the county has asked the school system to trim its request by 3 percent just to make ends meet.
"Anything we give to schools is going to have to come from somewhere, either taxes, there's going to be a lot of suffering this year," County Manager Mike Ruffin said.
Ruffin says the county is hesitant to dip into its rainy day fund for fear it would risk its AAA bond rating.
Through letters and e-mails, parent groups are trying to rally enough support to convince county leaders to change their minds - a hard sell with its own budget deficit looming.
"Our problem is we have a $10 million funding gap, so I think we're all having trouble funding services," Ruffin said.
Durham school leaders admit the cash-strapped county isn't a long-term solution, but with a $57 million shortfall over the next three years, for now it's the only one.
"I don't know what our number will be that the board will want to ask for county funding but it will a number we'll be well-prepared to justify," Hurd said.
The school system will submit its budget proposal on April 29.