Wake County teachers will get smaller raises than they expected this year and high school students will have to pay more to park at school to help close a $25.5 million budget gap.
The Wake County school board approved Tuesday a list of budget-cutting options that school leaders acknowledged will have a painful impact on North Carolina's largest school system. Among the changes are reduced raises, higher fees, teachers having to change jobs to stay employed and not hiring as many new workers as hoped to help with the mental-health needs of students.
School board members tried to shift blame for the cuts onto state lawmakers, accusing them of not doing enough to fund public education.
“We’ll continue to pass a budget with lots of hesitation and disappointment, but recognizing that it’s important that our teachers, our students and our school community at large know where we stand," school board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said before the vote.
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This year, county commissioners provided a record $45 million increase in school funding. But the school board had asked for a $58.9 million increase. Despite the gap, school board members praised commissioners for their support.
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.
One of the cuts that drew the most angst is the $4.9 million reduction in locally funded teacher pay raises this year.
Wake boosts the pay that the state provides teachers using a percentage that varies depending on the person's position and years of experience.
Wake will lock in local salary supplements to the amount provided in the 2017-18 school year with an extra $3.5 million added to the figure. This means that while teachers might get state raises this year, they'll get smaller-than-expected increases to their local salary supplement.
New salary schedules reflecting the changes will be presented to the school board in August.
"I know that there will be many people who are disappointed in the reduction of support offered to schools and there will be many of us frustrated with the smaller increase in pay than expected," Kristin Beller, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, said at the board meeting.
"This funding problem is not a local problem. This is a state funding problem."
Another budget change will only raise $225,000 but will impact thousands of high school students. High schools will now charge $200 a year — an increase of $30 — for an on-campus parking space. It's the first increase since 2008.
High schools have already begun collecting parking pass fees for the upcoming school year. Schools will now have to contact students who've already paid to collect the extra $30.
Other steps that will be taken to close the budget gap include:
▪ Save $4.5 million by eliminating 62 positions for central-office teachers who travel around the district supporting teachers. Of the positions, 35 are vacant and 27 teachers are being transferred to work at schools.
▪ Save $3.1 million by not hiring as many new teachers to work with academically and intellectually gifted students.
▪ Save $3 million by not hiring as many new school counselors, social workers and psychologists. The original budget included $5 million for these new positions with commissioners setting aside $2 million that could only be used for filling those jobs.
School staff dropped some cuts that had been on the table two weeks ago, including cutting bus service for some students at year-round schools and delaying raises for teachers who do extra duties such as coach athletic teams and serve as band directors.
School board member Bill Fletcher said the cuts wouldn't have been needed if the General Assembly hadn't shifted more than $120 million in what used to be state expenses on to Wake County taxpayers. Fletcher said he was outraged that the cuts had to be made in Wake.
“That’s not how we build a great school system and that’s not the level of service that our families deserve," Fletcher said. "We need to work out this issue with the legislature.”