Wake County school leaders are glad that state leaders want to raise teacher salaries, but say the extra pay would also create some local costs and lead to a budget shortfall.
The funding gap could force the school district to put off some new programs and even lay off employees, school officials and school board members said.
Gov. Pat McCrory, the state Senate and House have different plans for increasing teacher pay, moves that would require additional county funds to accompany the raises. These plans, coupled with other spending shifts that state leaders are considering, would cost Wake $11.1 million to $14.9 million in local dollars.
Until the state budget is adopted and the district determines how to make up the gap, the Wake school board adopted an interim budget Tuesday to keep the district operating when the new fiscal year opens July 1.
“We’re just looking to be in survival mode for what local funding needs to be in place July 1,” David Neter, the school system’s chief business officer, told the school board.
Teacher pay has been a major issue because North Carolina ranks 47th nationally in average teacher salaries. The state pays the salaries for most teachers with some school districts supplementing that pay. Although some systems pay a flat amount, Wake bases its teacher pay supplements on a percentage of the state salary.
On Tuesday, school administrators laid out the impact of the three different budget proposals on Wake. All would require larger pay supplements from Wake’s coffers.
Spreading the blame
Neter said that one way to meet those increases is to use the $10.2 million in extra funding that the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved Monday in the new budget. But he said using that money could mean cutting previously approved new programs such as expanding pre-kindergarten services, offering additional resources to academically challenged schools and hiring more literacy coaches.
Even if all of the $10.2 million was used, Neter said that would still leave Wake with a shortfall of as much as $4.7 million. Options to close that gap include making more budget cuts, laying off employees and dipping into a $6 million reserve to pay recurring expenses.
“We’re going to have some pretty difficult decisions ahead,” he said.
More cuts possible
Neter warned that there could be even more cuts if the Senate’s budget prevails – costing Wake funding for 711 of its 1,250 teacher assistant positions and operating costs of between 40 and 60 buses.
The budget challenges caused school board members to complain about their situation.
“The reality that either of the scenarios that we think we’ll end up with will result in cuts to our school system is just extremely disheartening to me,” school board member Susan Evans said.
Board members said state leaders should include more education funding so districts don’t have to make cuts.
“The picture that we’re looking at doesn’t look hopeful,” school board member Bill Fletcher said. “I’m hopeful that the state legislature will come through with a reasonable plan.”
Some frustration was also vented at the Wake Board of Commissioners for not funding the district’s request for a $39.3 million increase. School board members said that if they had gotten the full amount it would have given them more flexibility to deal with higher state costs.
Instead of funding the school board’s $29.1 million plan to give all employees an average 3.5 percent locally funded pay raise, the commissioners voted to set aside $3.75 million in funds from excess county liquor sales to gives raises for teachers only. Neter said that the county’s plan would give teachers between $200 and $300 more a year, before taxes.
“I also want to thank our county commissioners for providing a $3 to $8 a week raise for our teachers,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”