Wake County schools were already struggling to make ends meet in the tough economy. Now, they're dealing with a state mandated spending freeze that orders no money be spent on what the state considers "non-essential items." That - according to Burns - includes paper, and routine maintenance on school buses.
Trying to pay for all its bills, plus for the three new schools and the 2,500 more students joining the system next budget year, the school system is anticipating it will get about $40 million less from the state, and it's asking the county to chip in $317 million to help it meet its $1.7 billion proposed budget.
School officials say their total funding request is about $700,000 more than last year, but considering how the district is growing, they're spending less per pupil.
"We have repurposed funding, changed our funding formulas, we've cut in a number of different ways," offered Wake schools business officer David Netter.
The problem is the county has budget problems of its own. It's expecting a budget shortfall of more than $20 million, and is making cuts.
"We can't do everything we used to be able to do in the past," said Commissioner Stan Norwalk. "The thing that's really hurt us this year is the sales tax. That has dropped like a stone."
But Norwalk acknowledged this may be a case of pay now or pay later.
"If we don't do a good job, kids don't graduate. They're going to end up in the new jail we're building," he said. "Keeping them there costs three times as much as it does on what we spend on schools per person."
The district says it's doing what it can to cut corners. It's frozen administrative hiring, and Burns has told principals to only fill 95 percent of school openings - meaning some teachers will lose their jobs at the end of this school year.