Wake schools fear layoffs

District trying to keep all employees

Staff WriterMarch 2, 2009 

— For the first time in more than a decade, Wake County school employees are worried that they may lose their jobs because of the economy.

With the state and county facing huge budget deficits, questions about layoffs are increasingly common for Jennifer Lanane, president of Wake NCAE, which represents nearly 5,000 Wake school employees.

"I'm telling people, 'Don't panic, but don't take out any mortgages, don't make any large expenditures,' " Lanane said.

Wake school administrators say they are trying to do what they can to keep all 17,000 employees working.

Federal stimulus money is supposed to save jobs, with North Carolina slated to get $2 billion for education to help compensate for state budget cuts. But it is not certain whether the money will come soon enough for districts such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which may eliminate 1,200 jobs.

In Wake, administrators hope a hiring freeze that runs through June 30 will help prevent layoffs. Principals are allowed to fill teacher vacancies but can offer only contracts that expire June 30.

When principals will be able to hire staff for next school year is not yet clear.

"We're trying to be cautious," said Chip Mack, principal of Root Elementary School in Raleigh. "But we know our children will be OK."

Franklin Creech, principal of the new Banks Road Elementary in Fuquay-Varina, has to hire staff for the school's July opening. While he has gotten approval to hire employees who want to transfer from other schools in the district, he is waiting for the OK to hire from outside Wake.

Lanane said it would be a mistake to lay off any employees, especially teachers.

"It would be devastating to the children of Wake County," she said.

Scott Benrube, the career development coordinator at Leesville Road Middle School in Raleigh, said he hopes Wake's continued student growth will provide enough money that layoffs can be avoided. Wake gets funded based on enrollment.

Rather than use the money to hire new teachers, Benrube said Wake might have to use it to keep current employees on payroll. He said those employees might need to pick up a heavier workload.

"We're all going to make sacrifices," Benrube said.

School districts nationally are worrying about layoffs as they write budgets for the coming fiscal year. Wake Schools Superintendent Del Burns is to present his proposed 2009-10 operating budget Tuesday. Burns is not expected to seek much, if any, increased funding from the county commissioners.

School board member Ron Margiotta said the schools should consider not asking for any increase. He pointed out that county agencies may have to lay off people, including the sheriff's office.

"We have to be safe first," Margiotta said.

Lanane said Wake NCAE won't make its annual request for a local pay raise for employees.

"We're not going to ask for a raise if people could lose their jobs," she said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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