Schools budget spares teachers

But other jobs would be cut

Staff writersMarch 16, 2011 


    As part of his budget proposal, Superintendent Tony Tata wants to spend $900,000 to keep 19 teachers at five under-enrolled, traditional-calendar elementary schools: Hilburn Drive, Jeffreys Grove, Root and potentially York and Aversboro.

    Tata said the schools would get more teachers than they would normally receive based on their enrollment.

    Shelley Blake, a Hilburn parent, said she appreciates that Tata listened to Hilburn's needs, but she doesn't think the measures adequately address the school's problems with teacher and program loss due to under-enrollment. But every bit helps, she said.

    "Hilburn already wasn't on equal footing with other schools, so maintaining the status quo isn't going to benefit the school the way we need it to, but it's a step in the right direction," Blake said.

    But for under-enrolled, year-round elementary schools, Tata said he's reviewing whether it's more efficient to recommend converting several of them to a traditional calendar for this fall. The examples he listed are Rand Road, Lake Myra, Alston Ridge, River Bend and Timber Drive.

    T. Keung Hui

  • The Wake County school board will review Superintendent Tony Tata's budget.

    Pending board approval, it will go to the county commissioners to see if they'll agree to give the school system $313.5 million.

    But the budget's fate rests on how much the state cuts the education budget.

    State Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican and co-chairman of the education appropriations committee, said it's unlikely the state would replace the federal stimulus money that legislators used last year to pay for school support staff positions across the state.

    "I'm hoping that it will be in the single digits," Apodaca said. "But I can't guess where it will fall. We want to protect K-12 as much as possible."

— Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata is proposing a spending plan that would eliminate more than 200 clerical and administrative positions, but it would spare teacher jobs - and even include teacher bonuses.

Tata's proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, released Tuesday, would seek to shrink some classes and add education initiatives in an effort to balance quality throughout the state's biggest school system. Tata's plan is based on the N.C. Department of Public Instruction's projection that a 5 percent state education cut would cost Wake $40 million. The state is facing a $2.4 billion revenue shortfall.

"It's very realistic that we will be able to implement this budget," said Tata, who started as superintendent Jan. 31.

If the financial assumptions work out, Tata says, his budget would protect teachers and classrooms while making public schools attractive to families.

Tata's proposed operating budget of $1.25 billion represents a 2 percent decrease over the current year, as well as a dip of $52 in per pupil spending. Despite anticipating 3,500 more students this fall, Tata is not asking for an increase over the $313.5 million that county commissioners have provided the school district for the past two years.

Tata would avoid laying off teachers and teacher assistants by using the $28 million that Wake received last year as part of a federal bill to save education jobs. The funding would save 550 jobs in Wake.

The federal funding also will allow Wake to reduce class sizes in grades 4 and 5 by one student to 27 students and to keep all of the district's pre-kindergarten classes. Wake had expanded its pre-kindergarten program using federal stimulus dollars that are set to run out this year.

Bonus for teachers

Tata also proposes spending $6.2 million to give all 9,000 of Wake's teachers a bonus of up to $500, after taxes. Some of the bonus funding comes from a $2.8 million fine in a cigarette tax fraud case. Fines in criminal cases go to school districts in North Carolina.

It would be the first bonus or raise Wake's teachers have received in several years.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta praised Tata for proposing ways to improve the quality of education in Wake County while facing potential state cuts of tens of millions of dollars and a status quo county contribution.

"It has some initiatives in there that we might not have expected," he said.

Former Chairman Kevin Hill called the proposed document "austere" and worried about the long-term affects of the cuts.

"I've never seen politicians go back when things get better and refund everything," he said. "I'm afraid that once it's gone, it'll be gone for good."

Tata said making all schools attractive would help in implementing the school choice plan for student assignment that a task force is developing for the 2012-13 school year. This includes providing enough funding to ensure that every elementary school has an art teacher, music teacher and physical education teacher, he said.

Other initiatives to help make schools more attractive include:

Providing $450,000 to allow six elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools to compete for new technology or international studies programs. Tata said priority would be given to under-enrolled schools.

Providing $1.6 million to ensure that every middle school has a foreign language program. The funds add 33 teachers for the classes. Schools have cut back on foreign language because of cuts.

Adding 760 alternative school seats. School officials are looking for more places to house students who are disciplined in lieu of removing them from school for the rest of the year.

Jobs to be cut

Tata's budget also calls for cutting jobs as part of an effort to make the school district more efficient.

Tata said this includes eliminating 46 central services positions, 26 of them now filled. The central services department covers a variety of positions not based at schools.

"We had to make some tough cuts," Tata said.

The biggest share of job cuts would come from the loss of one clerical position at each of Wake's 163 schools. This is based on the assumption that the state will not completely make up the $35 million in federal stimulus money legislators used last year to cover support positions in Wake.

David Neter, Wake's chief business officer, said the district is anticipating losing some state funding for assistant principals. But instead of layoffs, he said, the number of months that individual assistant principals are working is likely to be cut.

Tata said that more jobs could be eliminated after he receives an outside audit looking at Wake's organizational structure. The audit is being conducted free by the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains non-educators such as Tata to become superintendents.

Staff writer Chelsea Kellner contributed to this report. or 919-829-4534

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