Wake County schools could be a little dirtier, and warmer in the summer and colder in the winter, to help make up a $17.5 million budget shortfall in the coming school year.
School administrators recommended Tuesday a list of cost-saving measures to help balance the budget, including reducing school custodial services by one day a week and changing temperature settings one degree warmer to 75 degrees in the summer and one degree cooler to 68 degrees in the winter. Other recommended cuts include reducing instructional supplies and reducing teacher staffing at elementary and middle schools.
School board members, who will vote on the budget cuts in August, greeted the cuts with groans and sighs.
“My initial take is extreme frustration and disappointment,” said school board member Kevin Hill. “Here we are cutting how many days we can clean the schools.”
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If approved, schools will go from being cleaned three days a week to two days a week. Wake used to clean the schools every weekday, but that was reduced during the recession.
Most of the budget shortfall comes from the school system getting $11.8 million less than what it requested this year from the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Wake is also dealing with the impact of bigger-than-expected teacher pay raises from the state and cuts in state funding in areas such as transportation and central administration.
But at the same time staff is recommending cuts, administrators proposed Tuesday providing $3 million more to give support staff a local 1.5 percent pay raise. When combined with the state’s 1.5 percent increase, it would match the 3 percent raise that Wake County government is giving its employees.
Support staff include people such as custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and secretaries.
Teachers are already slated to get an average pay raise of 4.7 percent from the state this year.
The new support staff raises were an example of how Chief Business Officer David Neter said that protecting the district’s employees was a major factor in determining which cuts to recommend. For instance, staff didn’t recommend some potential cuts that were listed in May, including freezing the amount that Wake locally supplements teacher pay at 2015-16 salary levels.
Staff also is not recommending delaying the second year of a five-year plan to raise pay for teachers who do extra duties such as coach athletic teams.
The budget cuts call for no layoffs. Even in the case where the cuts would mean 25 schools will lose a teacher, they’ll be transferred to other schools that have openings.
“At the end of the day, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘What is our core business about?’ ” Neter said. “It’s learning and teaching for our children, and that in turn is dependent on our human resources.”
Staff also scrapped some other May ideas such as charging students to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, raising student parking fees and eliminating after-school activity buses.
But Tuesday’s list still frustrated board members. The school board is trying to find where to make cuts within a $1.5 billion operating budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
“This will have a direct impact on every single classroom and every teacher and every teaching professional in every school,” Hill said.
Some big-ticket cuts on Tuesday include $3.6 million from reducing custodial services, $2.7 million from changing teacher staffing formulas, $2 million from cutting Central Services contracts and $1 million from freezing vacant central-office positions for 90 days. Staff also wants to take $3 million more out of the rainy-day fund to balance the budget.
Reducing instructional supplies by $3.04 per student would save $481,000, and changing thermometer settings would save $405,000.
Staff also wants to postpone some planned new budget items such as $843,000 to hire more instructional technology facilitators to help teachers use technology and $400,000 to hire more middle school visual and performing arts teachers.
Neter said the cuts were recommended after an extensive review but there were no easy answers to find the money.
Board members said they want to give the community time to share their thoughts on the cuts before they’re adopted.
“The superintendent didn’t bring to us a fluff budget,” said school board member Bill Fletcher. “This was a focused budget designed to do things that we need to do to ensure that more of our children are going to be successful, so to have to make these cuts is unfortunate.
“I just want to allow our constituents an opportunity to provide some input.”
2-hour delay on Election Day
The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to open all of the district’s schools on a two-hour delay on Election Day because of the traffic around polling places in the morning.
Voter turnout is expected to be high on Nov. 8 when between 50 and 60 Wake schools will serve as polling places. Wake has historically delayed the opening of school on Election Day during national elections.