Wake County school board members are skeptical of the suggestions made by principals to save money by making cuts in the district’s Central Office.
Wake school administrators are in the process of developing the 2017-18 operating budget so the district’s Division of Principals was asked to poll principals for suggestions for budget priorities, cost savings and things that should not be cut.
The results of the survey of principals was shared at Tuesday’s school board work session. What board members and administrators noticed is how the principals ranked cuts in Central Office/Central Services as high priority things that can be given up.
“They are out to get Central Office,” school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner said half jokingly.
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To put the suggested Central Office cuts in context, they come during a year where the school board approved $17.5 million in cuts to help balance the budget. Cuts included changing school and Central Office temperature settings, reducing how often schools are cleaned, increasing class sizes in middle schools and high schools and cutting the amount provided for instructional supplies.
Among elementary school principals, the third-highest ranked potential savings for next year’s budget would be to distribute Central Office coordinating teacher funding directly to schools. In fourth place was review all Central Service positions for reduction or elimination.
Among middle school principals, the top-ranked possible cut was significant reduction in centrally-based instructional coaches. In second was significant reduction in centrally-based coordinating teachers.
In fifth was discontinue creation of new Central Office positions. Sixth was reduce Central Office printing.
Among high school principals, the second-highest ranked possible cost-saving measure was adjust Central Office temperatures by one degree or more.
“I guess they’re looking to turn the heat up on us in the summer,” quipped Chief Business Officer David Neter.
The No. 4 item for the high school principals was reduce or cut Central Office teacher positions. In fifth was decrease academic coaches in the district.
In 2011, a report from outside consultants found Wake to be lean administratively compared to school districts of its size. Superintendent Tony Tata used the report to make some new administrative hires.
In the past three years, Superintendent Jim Merrill has created positions such as new area superintendents and an assistant superintendent for equity affairs. Wake also filled the long-vacant chief technology officer position.
School board member Bill Fletcher defended Central Office, saying principals really didn’t know how lean things are there.
“The principals are the budget managers for their schools,” Fletcher said. “They know what resources they have. They know what choices they have and they know how to deploy what they get.
“Apparently they know little about Central Office. We persistently are shown to be one of the leanest Central Service organizations in the world in terms of supporting the number of employees and students that we have.
“I’m very happy to receive this information from the principals with particular regard to how you improve what’s happening with your kids and the outcomes there. I’m less excited about some of the reaches that have been made for things that they may be less familiarity with. I appreciate the input.”
Kushner chimed in “that’s a good way to put it Mr. Fletcher.”
School board member Jim Martin said the comments that principals made about Central Office reminds him of a starvation budget.
“When you have a starved population, I’m worried about you getting any rice to eat because then I don’t get rice to eat, then we forget to plant rice,” Martin said. “What I’m struck in all of these comments is I don’t see any planting rice, vision, goals. This is all how do I hang on.”
Martin said the principal comments help show the need for the school board to talk with the Wake County Board of Commissioners about what is the public school system that they want to have. He said that’s a better discussion than looking at where the district is now and what can it do without.
The school board will provide its input into the budget in January. Merrill will take the feedback and present his proposed 2017-18 operating budget in March or April.
The school board will review Merrill’s budget and submit a request to the commissioners in the spring. The county currently provides 29 percent of the the funding for the school district’s $1.5 billion operating budget.