In the face of a $17.5 million budget shortfall, Wake County school board members agreed Tuesday to make a painful series of cuts that include reducing how often schools are cleaned and how much money is spent on instructional supplies.
Middle and high schools will go from being vacuumed and swept three days a week to twice a week. But in a last-minute compromise Tuesday, the board backed a plan that will reduce cleaning in elementary schools to every other weekday instead of twice a week. Elementary schools will be cleaned five days every two-week period, or one fewer day than the current schedule.
“I want to express my frustration that the budget right now, at what is viewed as the second year, or maybe third year of our ‘recovery’ after the Great Recession, that we’re talking about how often we’re going to vacuum our rooms,” said school board member Kevin Hill.
In addition to being vacuumed and swept less often, schools will also become less comfortable. To save $405,000, school temperatures will be raised one degree to 75 degrees in the summer and lowered one degree to 68 degrees in the winter.
Most of the budget shortfall comes from the school system getting $11.8 million less than what it requested this year from the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Wake is also dealing with the impact of bigger-than-expected teacher pay raises from the state and cuts in state funding in areas such as transportation and central administration.
Staff presented a long list of cuts that were approved Tuesday, including:
▪ Change staffing formulas to provide fewer teachers at schools – $2.7 million;
▪ Cut Central Services contracts – $2 million;
▪ Freeze vacant central-office positions for 90 days – $1 million;
▪ Don’t hire more instructional technology facilitators to help teachers use technology – $843,000;
▪ Reduce instructional supplies by $3.04 per student – $481,000;
▪ Don’t hire more middle school visual and performing arts teachers – $405.000.
The cut that had gotten the most attention was one that would have saved $3.6 million by reducing school cleanings at all schools to twice a week. Amid the concerns, staff presented three scenarios Tuesday for eliminating or reducing the custodial cut.
Board members rejected options that would have have left cleanings at all schools at three days a week or only reduced cleanings at middle schools and high schools. Board members were concerned those options would have meant further cuts in instructional supplies.
“I’m not really comfortable with hitting the supplies budget any more than we have to,” said school board member Susan Evans.
In the compromise approved Tuesday, the $3.6 million cleaning cut was reduced to $2.1 million.
Even with the cuts, school leaders stressed that there will still be a custodian at every school each day to clean restrooms and mop up spills.
School officials say no employees will be laid off by the district.
The $17.5 million shortfall includes $3 million that the board agreed to add to the budget to provide support staff a locally funded 1.5 percent pay raise. It would be combined with the state’s 1.5 percent increase for those employees to give them a combined 3 percent raise.
Support staff include people such as custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and secretaries.
Teachers are already slated to get an average pay raise of 4.7 percent from the state this year.
Even though the majority of the shortfall comes from not getting the requested amount from the county, school board members voiced their complaints Tuesday against the state. According to Wake, the district is getting $105 less per student from the state than it did in 2008 before the recession.
“The state funding is still stuck at $28 per student (for instructional supplies),” said school board Chairman Tom Benton. “Now think about that: $28 per student for the year for instructional supplies and we’re supposed to have a state-supported system that provides a free and appropriate education to all of our students.”
School board approves new school names
The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to use Willow Spring High as the name for a new school in Fuquay-Varina and Buckhorn Creek Elementary for a new school in Holly Springs.
The school board had previously voted to name the new high school after Kennebec Road, where it will be located. But Fuquay-Varina town leaders requested the name change.