Will Wake County graduations go on as planned?

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- While Wake County Public Schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic, there is a chance graduations will still go on.

During a virtual news conference on Friday, Wake County Public School System Board Chair Keith Sutton said seniors have already lost quite a bit during the pandemic and if there's anything they can salvage, he said he'd like to see seniors have that meaningful graduation experience.

"It is important to us to maintain, for the time being, our plans for graduation," Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore said during the news conference. "We know that they may be interrupted, as so many things have been interrupted but we have maintained our contracts for our graduation venues. We're not letting go of them. We have had discussions about alternatives should those late May, early June dates not work. I really am committed to figuring out a way to provide our seniors with that milestone."

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Superintendent Moore gave an update on remote learning, she said 152 schools have distributed nearly 20,000 Chromebooks to students and that 3,200 hotspots will be sent to schools next week to be distributed to families.

She said most teachers were able to make initial contact with students shortly after schools closed due to COVID-19. But she said anecdotal data from schools show between 50 to 75 percent are engaging in remote learning, which started this week. She said it's higher than the national average but that there's room to grow.

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"We know that there may be some that are not engaging because of access to resources," Superintendent Moore said. "But we've made such a great dent in that, that I think really now we're looking at whether it's connectivity or its support at home. That's the work that's before us is having our teachers continue to reach out to students who have not engaged."

Superintendent Moore said she's recommending asking Wake County for a smaller budget increase than in recent years because of the economic fallout from COVID-19.

This week, she presented a budget proposal to the Board of Education for the 2020-2021 school year. She's recommending asking Wake County for nearly $30 million more than last year. That'd be nearly $546 million in funding from the county. Last year, the district got $45 million more from the county than the previous year.

"We also need to be cognizant and partners with our commissioners around the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic that is going to have an economic impact on our community," Superintendent Moore said. "The $29 million increase is the smallest, quite frankly, that it's been in a number of years. I think that does reflect some thoughtful planning and some difficult decisions already about where we need to prioritize our dollars for next year."

The question still looms for Chair Sutton, will the $29 million be enough?

"I think what we're looking at now is the bare minimum, as we look forward to the next year, again, given that we are in the middle of a global pandemic," Chair Sutton said.

The Board of Education will need to consider the request. Then, they'll present the budget proposal to Wake County.

In June, the county commissioners will discuss and approve the proposed budget.
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