RALEIGH — Class sizes will likely grow this fall in Wake County, and schools can expect to get fewer employees and supplies, but it looks as if no teachers or teacher assistants will be laid off - for now.
If the state caps its education funding cut at 3 percent for this fall, Wake school administrators said the $20 million in reductions they laid out Wednesday should allow them to keep the same number of teachers they have now. But teacher layoffs are expected if Gov. Bev Perdue proposes a 5 percent cut in state education funding to deal with a revenue shortfall as big as $700 million. Perdue is expected to reveal her proposal for next year's state budget Tuesday.
"It could get a lot worse," said school board member John Tedesco. "We just don't know right now."
Still, Wake is in better shape than some other school districts.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system may have to eliminate 600 teaching positions. Durham may have to cut 200 teaching positions and Johnston County is looking at eliminating 113 teachers.
The difference is that Wake is still seeing significant growth, potentially 3,833 additional students this fall. The state funds teachers based on student enrollment.
In normal times, Wake would see several hundred extra teachers hired each year. This time, Wake is hoping to break even.
"It looks fine on the surface, but things aren't going to be the same at schools," said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators. "I'm glad we're not laying off staff, but the reality is we're saying we're going to have more kids but the same number of teachers."
David Neter, Wake's chief business officer, said that student growth wouldn't be enough to deal with a 5 percent state cut, which would equal a loss of $34 million.
Even though school board members said the news was a "silver lining," the cuts proposed Wednesday were painful. Administrators said 80 percent of the $20 million cut would have to come from schools because they've already cut heavily from other areas.
Plans include cutting pay for athletic coaches, providing fewer school supplies and increasing class sizes in fourth through 12th grades. This comes on top of budget cuts made last year that increased class sizes and led to fewer electives and advanced courses.
"It's scary," said Debra Goldman, vice chairwoman of the school board. "I don't like any of the options. But we have to make the cuts."
Neter said they had rejected other cuts for various reasons. He said that going to half-day kindergarten and a four-day work week would require changes in state law. He said there would be legal issues with furloughing employees.
On the basis of budget uncertainty, Wake implemented a hiring freeze Monday for the 2010-11 school year. Only teaching positions for special education and English as a Second Language were exempted.
The hiring freeze means about 800 teachers who are on one-year contracts will be in limbo for this fall. But Neter said they expect to be able to rehire those teachers after the freeze is lifted.
This new $20 million cut comes on top of $20 million in cuts that were already factored in because of state and county revenue shortfalls. The first round of cuts was steered away from the classroom with more than 70 nonschool based employees facing layoffs.
For now, school leaders are anxiously waiting to see whether the budget news will get worse Tuesday. No specific plans have been drawn up yet on how to deal with the additional $14 million in cuts that would come from a 5 percent state reduction.
"If we're saying that 3 percent is painful, 5 percent will be excruciating," said Keith Sutton, chairman of the school board's finance committee.
Staff writers Sarah Nagem and Stanley B. Chambers Jr. contributed to this report.
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