Midtown Raleigh News

Wake County schools facing new $2.75 million budget hole

The budget news is getting grimmer for the Wake County school system with the prospect of cuts to school supplies and potentially layoffs to help fill a new $2.75 million budget hole.

School administrators said Tuesday they’re facing a new range of budget woes, including an unexpected $1.1 million cut in state funding. In addition, the district will save $1.3 million less than expected in bus costs because parental complaints resulted in the board scaling back school schedule changes for this fall.

To close the gap, administrators are recommending cutting the amount that schools get for supplies by $2.1 million with central office departments footing the rest of the reductions. On April 24, Superintendent Tony Tata’s senior staff will tell the board how they’ll cut money from their departments, steps that could include layoffs. None of the potential layoffs would affect employees based in schools, such as teachers.

“We keep talking about cutting, cutting,” board Chairman Kevin Hill said.

Board members left open the possibility of avoiding, at least for now, the cuts by asking county commissioners for the money. Tata has proposed asking commissioners for an $8.8 million increase after four years of relatively flat funding. The additional $2.75 million would push the requested increase to $11.5 million.

But during a joint meeting two weeks ago, the Republican commissioners that make up the majority expressed reluctance – given the state of the economy – to give $8.8 million more to the school system.

The board is scheduled to vote on the budget May 1. The commissioners would vote on the county budget, which includes the school system’s share, June 18.

Tata has proposed using $28.8 million of the district’s $33.9 million rainy-day fund to help replace the loss of federal funding that’s now paying for more than 500 teachers. It’s part of a $1.25 billion operating budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year with the county providing about a quarter of the funding.

Tata’s goal has been to avoid layoffs. But Chief Business Officer David Neter said Tuesday some layoffs of nonteachers may be necessary now.

The biggest proposed reduction would be to cut the $85-per-student allotment for school supplies by $13.96. The money helps pay for items such as textbooks. ..

Neter said they’ve cut so much in the past few years that to be fair they need to take the $2.75 million from both central office and the schools.

Tata’s budget also calls for giving teachers a 1 percent raise with nonteachers getting a one-time $500 bonus. The teacher pay raises would cost $5.2 million, representing the first raise in four years.

Members of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators wore green during Tuesday’s public hearing on the budget to show their support for the raises.

“I urge you to not shortchange the children of Wake County,” said Marcella Cox, a teacher at West Lake Middle School and a former county teacher of the year. “Invest in WCPSS employees with a raise in supplement pay for teachers and bonuses for all other employees.”

Even with the new $2.75 million in cuts, Tata stood behind giving the raises.

“We don’t want to be caught flatfooted where our most talented people are snapped up by competing private companies or states that can do better,” he said.