Wake Ed

Wake County preparing school budget cuts but layoffs not expected

Wake County school leaders are dealing with a potential $15 million shortfall, but said Tuesday that they don’t expect to use layoffs to close the budget gap.

The Wake County school board adopted Tuesday an interim budget to keep the district running past July 1 until it becomes clear how much state funding will be available for the 2016-17 fiscal year. But with the district already facing at least an $11.8 million shortfall in county funding, school officials will present a list of potential budget cuts on July 19.

“We will make cuts this year,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said. Tuesday. “Some of them will be painful.”

But in a press release Tuesday, school officials said they don’t anticipate that one of those options will be layoffs. Wake has more than 18,000 school employees.

In May, school staff had identified a list of potential cuts such as reducing classroom supplies, cutting back on school cleanings, raising class sizes and withholding planned raises for teachers who do extra duties such as coach athletic teams. Staff has also listed options for higher fees such as charging students to play sports, raising the cost of student parking and increasing employee dental premiums.

But school officials said Tuesday that a new list would be developed.

“We are already a very lean and efficient organization, so virtually any cut affects classrooms,” Wake said in its press release. “That means our students, our families, and our employees will likely be affected in some way.”

A large portion of the potential shortfall comes from how the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to give $23.9 million of the $35.7 million increase requested by the school board. While school board members thanked commissioners Monday for how they’ve raised funding in the past two years, they also expressed their disappointment in not getting the full amount.

During Monday’s vote, some commissioners pointed to how they have increased school funding by 20 percent in the past two years. Last year, commissioners approved a record $44.6 million school funding increase.

“We have to point out that’s 20 percent over the last eight years,” Benton said. “We went for six years with flat lines or cuts in budgets so although these county commissioners have owned the problems, there’s still much left to be done.”

The school district had said that most of the $35.7 million increase was needed to cover the cost of growth, legislative impacts, and maintaining current programs.

The school district expects that the final state budget will likely increase the shortfall above $11.8 million so they’re planning now for making $15 million in cuts.

If lawmakers approve a state budget by June 30, the school board would likely vote on a final 2016-17 budget in August.