Education

Why Wake County teachers might get smaller raises and students might pay more for parking

Heritage HIgh School head basketball coach Tilden Brill III congratulates Redford Dunton (5) during a timeout. The Wake County school system might put on hold $1.4 million in extra-duty pay raises to help close a $25.5 million budget gap.
Heritage HIgh School head basketball coach Tilden Brill III congratulates Redford Dunton (5) during a timeout. The Wake County school system might put on hold $1.4 million in extra-duty pay raises to help close a $25.5 million budget gap. newsobserver.com

The Wake County school system might close a $25 million budget gap by making high school students pay more to park at school and reducing teacher raises.

School administrators laid out Tuesday a list of potential cuts for the school board to choose from to help balance the budget. School leaders say there's no way to close the deficit without making cuts that will reduce services in North Carolina's largest school district.

"We know that cutting $25 million means inevitably touching our students," said school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler.

This year, county commissioners had provided a record $45 million increase in school funding. But the school board had asked for a $58.9 million increase.

School officials say the combination of not getting all they wanted from the county and unanticipated changes in the state budget raised this year's budget shortfall to $25.5 million.

Even though the school district's operating budget is more than $1.6 billion, school officials say that since 95 percent of the budget goes toward educating students, there's no way to make cuts that won't be significant.

David Neter, Wake's chief operating officer, said staff is first recommending $9.1 million worth of cuts in new or expanded programs. This list includes $3 million to hire more social workers, counselors and psychologists and $1.4 million in extra-duty raises for teachers.

"I'm not saying any of this is good or easy," Neter said of the options.

The school board had budgeted $5 million for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, billing it as a way to make schools safer. Commissioners agreed to provide $2 million for those positions.

The extra-duty raises are part of a five-year plan to increase the amount given to teachers who perform additional duties such as coaching athletic teams and serving as band directors, club advisers and department chairs.

Wake teachers also face getting less of a raise in another area.

Wake boosts the pay that the state provides teachers using a percentage that varies depending on the person's position and years of experience.

An item on the table would save up to $8.4 million by freezing the local salary supplement to the dollar amount that teachers got in the 2017-18 school year. This means that while teachers might get state raises this year, their local salary supplement wouldn't increase.

Other potential items for closing the budget shortfall include:

Save $7 million by eliminating 100 central-office teachers who travel around the district supporting teachers. These people would stay employed by filling new or vacant classroom positions.

Save $1 million by eliminating bus service for students who are going to their calendar-option school, such as people who applied to attend a year-round school. But Neter said it would be unlikely this option would be cut at this late date.

Generate $225,000 by raising the high school student parking pass $30 to $200 a year.

The school board adopted an interim budget Tuesday to operate the district until a decision is made on where to make cuts.

Unlike in past budget years, school officials say the district's reserves have been depleted and can't be used to close the gap.

"We're looking at the least-worst options," said school board member LIndsay Mahaffey.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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