Wake County’s traditional-calendar schools opened a new school year Monday amid growing concern about when a final state budget will be adopted and what it will provide for education.
Wake school board members were told Monday that it’s looking less likely that the General Assembly will adopt a budget before the continuing resolution that funds the state through Aug. 31 expires. With some lawmakers joking about what they’ll wear for Halloween, Courtney Crowder, the school district’s state lobbyist, said the goal of a budget by Labor Day on Sept. 7 isn’t a given either.
“I don’t know how magical Labor Day is going to be this time,” Crowder said.
Without a final state budget, school districts around North Carolina are operating on temporary spending plans. In Wake’s case it means not starting some new, locally funded programs yet.
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The lack of a state budget also means uncertainty about items such as pay raises for all teachers and keeping state funding for driver’s education and 8,500 teacher assistants.
House and Senate leaders agreed last week to set the budget at $21.74 billion, but the details haven’t been worked out. The $21.74 billion figure is closer to the original Senate budget, which would cut thousands of teacher assistants and not fund driver’s education, than the House plan that would fully fund both items.
Crowder said legislative leaders haven’t yet given the different committee chairs their target budget amounts based on that $21.74 billion figure.
David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, laid out for school board members a scenario that could lead to deep cuts in the original House budget that had been praised by school leaders. With the budget target being $420 million less than the House budget, Neter said, education funding could be reduced by $164 million.
“If the final amount that is given to the Education Subcommittee to work with is somewhere in these lines, something big is going to change or go,” Neter said.
Neter noted how the House budget had included $169 million for teacher raises, $102 million to help school districts keep up with enrollment growth, $89 million for teacher assistants, $43.5 million for textbooks and $26 million for driver’s ed.
School board chairwoman Christine Kushner said school officials need to stay positive as they deal with the 158,000 students who could enroll in Wake this fall.
“We’ve just got to stay focused on opening school,” she said in an interview.