School board OKs lean budget, 68 layoffs

Staff WriterApril 21, 2010 

  • The Wake County school board agreed Tuesday to put most schools back on the same start and dismissal times they had for the 2008-09 school year.

    Under the plan, 70 of Wake's 103 elementary schools will operate this fall from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The board rejected other measures that would have started most elementary schools later or most high schools and middle schools earlier.

    But allowing most elementary schools to start at 9:15 a.m. meant finding $748,000 to hire 25 additional school bus drivers. The board will pay for the drivers by withholding local raises for some teachers and using money from vacant positions.

— Wake County school board members hesitantly approved a $1.2 billion budget proposal Tuesday with the hope that there are no additional local and state cuts that would lead to teacher layoffs and classroom cuts.

The budget makes $20 million in cuts, including layoffs for 68 nonschool-based employees and the elimination of 57 vacancies. Another $20 million to $34 million could be cut, depending on state funding.

"No one is happy with the budget we have in front of us," said Ron Margiotta, the school board chairman.

The budget situation is in flux as the county and state wrestle with revenue shortfalls

Last week, school administrators identified cuts that could offset a potential 3 percent reduction in state funding for this fall.

Options include cutting pay for athletic coaches by 30 percent, providing fewer school supplies, reducing staffing in school libraries and allowing these employees to apply for other teaching positions, 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.

"The thought of losing one librarian while serving 2,500 students is devastating," said Kerri Brown Parker, a media specialist at Millbrook High School. "We might save money, but it will come at a great cost."

School administrators have said no teachers, including media specialists, will be laid off under a 3 percent state cut. But that could change if funding is cut by 5 percent to help balance a state revenue shortfall of $788 million.

Administrators and board members repeatedly stressed that the cuts identified last week haven't been approved yet. They said they may be approved once the state budget is adopted.

The budget could also change if commissioners reject the school board's request for $313.5 million from the county, the same amount as was granted last year.

The budget proposal will be discussed at a joint meeting today of the school board and commissioners.

Debra Goldman, the school board vice chairwoman, said she voted for the budget only because of the need to get it approved and into the hands of commissioners by May 15.

"I felt trapped," Goldman said. "I feel like we're forced to adopt the budget today."

Goldman was joined in the 5-3 vote by Chris Malone, Carolyn Morrison, Deborah Prickett and Keith Sutton. Kevin Hill, Anne McLaurin and John Tedesco voted against the budget.

"We have to ask for things that will make students successful, but we haven't done that to my satisfaction with the budget," McLaurin said. "If we don't do that, no one else will."

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

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