Wake Ed

Wake County schools warn of potential budget cuts, higher fees

After scoring a late goal, Middle Creek freshman forward Mattie Murphy is lifted up by teammate Maggie Banks (18) during Middle Creek's girls soccer game at Athens Drive on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Wake County school staff are warning that the district may have to charge athletic activity participation fees if they don’t get enough money this year.
After scoring a late goal, Middle Creek freshman forward Mattie Murphy is lifted up by teammate Maggie Banks (18) during Middle Creek's girls soccer game at Athens Drive on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Wake County school staff are warning that the district may have to charge athletic activity participation fees if they don’t get enough money this year. newsobserver.com

Wake County school leaders are about to escalate the budget fight by warning they might use unpopular options such as not providing full teachers pay raises and charging students to play sports unless they get enough money.

The school board has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to discuss how to close a potential $16.8 million budget gap for the 2016-17 fiscal year. That deficit comes from how Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann has proposed giving $11.8 million less than what the school board wants. The state budget also requires $5 million more in local funds that Wake school staff had projected.

The list of potential strategies from staff for narrowing the gap read like a doomsday scenario, affecting popular programs and services. Some of the options that could be employed include:

▪ Increase elementary and middle school class sizes;

▪ Reduce money provided for instructional supplies;

▪ Reduce funding for music, arts and physical education classes;

▪ Reduce school custodial services by one day a week;

▪ Change school thermometers by one degree higher in warmer months and one degree cooler in colder months;

▪ Charge community groups more to rent school facilities;

▪ Eliminate after-school activity bus service;

▪ End bus service for students who were grandfathered under the choice plan;

▪ Increase high school student parking fees;

▪ Charge fees for athletic activity participation and selected extra-curricular activities:

▪ Increase employee dental insurance premium;

▪ Freeze teacher salary supplement at current dollar amounts.

On the last point, Wake provides a local supplement to the state base salary paid to teachers. The supplement works on a sliding percentage depending on factors such as years of experience and advanced certifications.

It’s expected that the state will provide a teacher pay raise this year. If Wake froze the supplement at current dollar amounts, teachers wouldn’t see their supplement increase to match the state raise.

Over the years, the school system has used similar threats during budget disputes. But considering how much the Democratic majorities on the school board and Wake County Board of Commissioners have both talked about how well they get along, these threatened budget strategies could strain things.

Last year, the school board thanked commissioners extensively for providing a record $44.6 million increase in school funding.

This year, the school board asked for a $35.7 million increase, saying most of the increase is needed to keep up with growth, to pay for the impact of state legislative decisions and to continue programs begun last year

On May 16, Hartmann proposed a $23.9 million increase for the school system. Hartmann said that his proposed increase, along with last year’s increase, equals a 20-percent increase in school funding over the past two years.

At the May 17, school board meeting, school board members talked about how there’s no “fluff” in the budget.

Tuesday’s meeting comes before commissioners hold budget public hearings June 6. Commissioners are expected to adopt the county budget June 20.

The budget isn’t the only thing on the agenda Tuesday. The school board is also scheduled to vote on a resolution requesting commissioners fund a $1.98 billion school construction program to meet needs for the next seven years.

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