Wake school leaders, commissioners talk budget

RALEIGH County commissioners gave the school system an $18 million dollar budget increase for next year, but that increase is tens of millions less than what school leaders requested.

The Wake County School Board asked for a budget increase of $54 million dollars over last year. County commissioners gave Wake County Schools $18 million of that – leaving a budget hole of about $36 million dollars. "I think we were all sort of shocked at the low number," School Board Member Lori Millberg said.

School leaders say they aren't getting enough money to keep up with growth in Wake County. So Monday's emergency meeting forced school leaders to consider what items, or programs will be cut out of the budget.

Superintendent Del Burns says $24 million worth of new and expanded programs are likely targets for cuts. Among them, extra programs for academically gifted students and foreign language classes for elementary school students. Some sports could go unfunded. Burns says school system employees could take a hit --pay raises and benefits could be reduced.

School board members began considering what to cut in next year's budget to make up for an estimated $36 million to $39 million budget shortfall. School board members were handed a list of dozens of items that Wake Schools administrators have effectively put on the table for consideration. The line items add up to about $49 million; in other words, administrators have given board members more that could be cut than is necessary to balance the budget.

Items that most likely will be cut from budget/not funded include:

  • $3,266,154 to expand academically gifted programs
  • $4,473,894 to offer foreign language at elementary schools
  • $3,960,562 to hire technology faciliators for schools
  • $2,518,917 to hire literacy coaches for K-2nd grade
  • $2,791,487 to hire literacy coaches for middle and high schools
  • $494,395 to hire school resource officers to increase school security and gang prevention

School board member, Lori Millberg fears large-scale negative implications for the whole system. "This kind of funding simply is not adequate, and we cannot continue to be the leading school system in North Carolina with this kind of funding," Millberg said.

The Wake County School System could seek mediation or maybe even a lawsuit against county commissioners on the grounds they don't feel they're getting adequate funding.

After 4 hours of deliberations, they are still working to trim tens of millions of dollars from their budget for the 2008-2009 school year. Nothing is final until a vote in July by the school board formally adopting the budget.

It appears as though the school board will keep in place many of the budget proposals that benefit teachers and other school system employees.

The school system's employee dental plan will not be cut; the school system fully fund employees who enroll in the program.

Teachers and all certified school system employees will keep the raises they were allotted in the initial Wake County schools budget.

Non-certified school employees will get a .5 percent salary increase, less than the 1 percent increase that was in the initial proposed budget.

Wake Schools will hire dozens fewer teachers than it expected -- no teachers will be fired.

"We did support our teachers, they are the lynchpins of what happens in a school, in a classroom, and we want to be sure that we can retain, that we can recruit," School Board Member Patti Head said. "I would tell you that nobody won today, because we had to slash our budget so much," Head said.

"None of us wants to do any of these, and we're just gonna have to pick the ones we want to do the least," Millberg added.

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