The Wake County school board will begin figuring out Tuesday how to dig out of a $24 million budget hole and also vote on an agreement governing school police officers.
The school board will have to adjust its budget after the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to give less than half of a requested $45.2 million school funding increase. School board members will discuss the budget situation at today’s work session and ask staff to come up with recommendations for where to cut money from the district’s $1.6 billion operating budget.
Recommendations on specific budget adjustments likely wouldn’t come until July. But programs that the school board wanted to begin or expand this year are now up in the air.
School leaders wanted the $45.2 million increase to help cover things such as hiring more counselors and social workers, increasing pay for bus drivers, keeping up with growth, offering new magnet school themes and expanding the Office of Equity Affairs. The new counselors and social workers alone would cost $10 million this year.
County Manager Jim Hartmann suggested that the school board use $21 million in unspent local money that the district could have by the end of June. But school leaders have said they’re reluctant to heavily rely on one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses.
Last year, the school board found itself with a $17.5 million budget shortfall after getting less than it wanted from the commissioners and the state. The school board responded by approving cuts such as reducing school cleanings, changing school thermometer settings and cutting instructional supplies.
During last week’s budget work session,Commissioner Erv Portman contended that last year’s cuts weren’t needed because the county had given the school board a $23.9 million increase in local funding. The school board wanted $35.7 million.
“There was no cut at all,” Portman said. “It was an increase in funding. All of the money to pay for the temperature in the classrooms from the prior year was still there, and an increase.
“All of the money for janitorial from the prior year was still there, and an increase. It wasn’t as much of an increase as they had asked.”
School leaders argued that the increase from the county wasn’t enough considering the district was trying to keep up with growth and start some new programs.
The school board will adopt an interim budget resolution Tuesday to keep the district running when the new fiscal year starts in July. The resolution will run until the board reconciles its budget with the funding from the county and state. A new state budget deal was announced Monday.
The school system currently pays local law enforcement agencies to provide more than 60 armed police officers to high schools and most middle schools.
In January, activists urged the school system to make a number of changes, including reducing by half the number of school resource officers. Activists have long accused school resource officers of targeting minority students more than white students.
Activists cited the video posted on Twitter in January of Rolesville Police Officer Ruben De Los Santos picking up Jasmine Darwin and slamming her to the floor before leading her away from a crowd of students at Rolesville High School.
The Wake County District Attorney’s Office announced that no charges would be filed against De Los Santos, who resigned from the Rolesville Police Department.
Others items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
▪ Giving final approval to an updated student wellness policy that encourages schools to promote physical activity through the creation of school gardens and opportunities to walk and bicycle to school;
▪ Approving $423,400 to be spent this summer to train math and language arts teachers in the new free online materials that Wake will be using in lieu of traditional textbooks;
▪ Terminating the district’s contract with Wake Acceleration Academies, which for two years has operated sites offering high school dropouts a second chance at a diploma. District officials say they are currently reviewing options to provide a pathway to graduation for these former Wake students;
▪ Approving $20,000 to be spent as part of a marketing campaign to recruit more school bus drivers. The shortage of bus drivers has forced Wake to take 166 buses off the road the past three years and to change routes and stops.