Wake County School Board Weighs Budget Cuts

Jul 20, 2016

Wake County School board members are weighing budget cuts.
Credit Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Wake County school board members are considering where they can make cuts in order to fill a $17.5 million budget gap. A proposed plan would increase class sizes, freeze teachers' local salary supplements and cut back on custodial services.

Board member Kevin Hill said the cuts are the result of years of underfunding by the state.

"To digest these cuts, I feel like we're still in 2011 or 2012 with the recession," he said.

State lawmakers increased education funding in their 2016-2017 budget, but spending per student is still lower than it was before the Great Recession.

"There were no easy answers to follow consecutive years of funding reduction, followed by, now that the economy has turned around, still limited funding to fill in those gaps that were created," Wake's Chief Operating Officer David Neter told the board.

Wake County school officials said they knew they'd have a budget shortfall after Wake County Commissioners gave them $11.8 million less than they requested. The district will also have to spend more local dollars than planned to make sure teachers and employees paid for with local funding get the same pay increases as state-funded teachers and employees. The General Assembly gave teachers raises ranging from 2 to 8 percent, depending on experience. State employees got a 1.5 percent increase.

Neter said the proposed plan for cuts would allow most of the programs and expansions to continue as planned and give non-teaching school employees an additional 1.5 percent pay increase on top of the state's increase, for a 3 percent total increase. The raise would cost the district about $3 million.

Neter noted that non-teaching school employees like bus drivers, teacher assistants and food service workers have gone several consecutive years without significant pay raises.

"We do not believe that the continued balancing of the budget on our human resources is aligned with our strategic plan," he said.

Board members said they knew the cuts were needed, and many agreed with the recommendation to give school employees an additional increase. But they were concerned how some cuts would effect teachers and students.

"I always have a gut reaction to reducing custodial services. That matters." board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said.

Hill said he worried cutting the number of days janitors clean schools from three days a week to two could worsen teacher turnover.

"Think about the elementary teachers bringing their vacuum cleaners yet another day to try to keep their classrooms clean. It's very disappointing," he said.

Board members said they want to hear from the public over the next two weeks. They plan to pass a final budget resolution at their August 16 meeting.