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Wake school leaders shocked by proposed Wake budget

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School leaders were reeling after the county manager's budget was revealed.

Wake County School Board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler knew the school system would be in for a battle about its record-breaking budget increase request.

But even she was surprised by the county manager's counter offer.

"The reaction is a little bit of shock," Johnson-Hostler said. "But, I think the reality has set in, that that's the manager's request.

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Hours after Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann delivered the bad news to Wake County Schools, the school board chair appeared at a community forum arranged by school advocacy group, Great Schools in Wake.

Hostler-Johnson said she remains hopeful she can convince county commissioners to buck the county manager's request to boost school funding by just $16 million this year, only a third of the $45.2 million increase the school system requested.

RELATED: Proposed Wake County budget includes 1.45-cent property tax increase

The district wants more money to beef up its staff of school counselors, operate four new schools, salary increases and expand its Office of Equity Affairs in the wake of a rash of racially-charged incidents on and off campuses.

But the county manager's budget recommendation puts a squeeze on that and could mean cuts.

"I'm not ready to talk about risks. But clearly, if we don't get additional funding, we will have cuts," Johnson-Hostler said.

The county manager is suggesting the school board make up the difference by dipping into its rainy day fund -- $21 million -- that went unused last year.

Board leaders dismiss that idea as a short-term Band-Aid to long-term funding issues. But the county manager insists, the school system has to get creative.

"I'm recasting the argument here," Hartmann told reporters earlier Monday. "If (WCPSS) takes another approach to their budgeting they should be able to accommodate their needs."

"Using the rainy day fund is not a sustainable mechanism for funding," Johnson-Hostler said.

But what if the school system has no other choice?

"If we don't have a choice, of course we will do what we have to do for schools," Johnson-Hostler said. "But I'm still optimistic."

Wake county commissioners were invited to the Great Schools forum. And there was one in the audience Monday night. Commissioner Greg Ford sat in the crowd of parents and teachers taking notes but not making any promises.

The deadline is July 1 for county commissioners to approve the Wake Schools budget request.

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