Wake Ed

New Wake County school budget proposal to be presented Tuesday

Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill will present his budget recommendations for the 2017-18 school year on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill will present his budget recommendations for the 2017-18 school year on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. tlong@newsobserver.com

The new school budget, this fall’s school bell schedules and the future of the multi-track year-round school program will take up much of the Wake County school board’s focus on Tuesday.

During the regular meeting, Superintendent Jim Merrill will lay out his proposed $1.5 billion operating budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. One thing to watch is how Merrill recommends dealing with the impact of implementing the state’s cuts in K-3 class sizes that could lead to cuts in art, music, physical education and foreign language classes.

Wake school officials have estimated that it could require 460 new K-3 teachers and require $26 million in additional local funding to avoid laying off art, music, PE and foreign language specialists.

The Senate could end the uncertainty by approving House Bill 13, which was unanimously adopted by the House as a way to provide a short-term fix to the lower class sizes slated to go into effect this fall. But the bill has stalled in the Senate and some Wake multi-track year-round schools are warning parents that track changes will be needed to get classes down as a result.

If Merrill asks the Wake County Board of Commissioners to pick up the costs, it could impact his ability to ask for any other increases this year. Merrill warned the school board in February that to protect the district he’d have to budget in the new lower class sizes.

Commissioners have increased local school funding by $68.5 million over the past two years, but school officials complained they got $11.8 million less than what they requested last year. Wake wound up making cuts last year such as a reducing how often schools are cleaned and how much money is spent on instructional supplies.

Later in the meeting, the school board is scheduled to vote on proposed 2017-18 school bell schedules, which would change the start times at five schools: Apex High, Wake Forest Middle and Apex, Heritage and North Forest Pines elementary schools.

The school board delayed the vote on March 21 to discuss parental concerns raised about shifting Apex High earlier to 7:10 a.m and shifting Apex and North Forest Pines elementary schools later to 9:15 a.m.

These times go against recommendations from groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics to delay start times for middle schools and high schools to 8:30 a.m. because teenagers have a hard time falling asleep before 11 p.m.

Wake school officials say they have to start high schools early to help deal with the lack of school bus drivers. School transportation officials want to do things such as raise pay for drivers and offer a one-time $750 bonus in June as a way to recruit and retain drivers.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the bus driver bonus in the regular meeting after discussing it during the work session agenda.

Also during the work session, the board will discuss staff’s recommendation on the number of multi-track year-round schools that are needed in the district. Before the presentation was postponed to today’s meeting, staff was going to recommend on March 21 converting between four and eight multi-track year-round schools to a traditional calendar in 2018.

Parents at the 18 multi-track year-round schools that have been listed as potentially being discussed for conversion have already been lobbying the district to not convert their children’s schools.

Also during the work session, the board will:

▪ Get an update on bills filed in the General Assembly that could impact Wake;

▪ Get a presentation on how Wake students fared on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the College and

Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA+);

▪ Get a look at the latest draft 2018-19 calendars for traditional, modified and multi-track schools.