Raleigh, N.C. — Superintendent Tony Tata presented a "very creative" budget proposal to the Wake County Board of Education Tuesday, prioritizing teacher retention and classroom investment in the face of a projected $2 billion to $3 billion state budget shortfall next year.
The school district will cut 46 central services clerical positions, reduce contract months for assistant principals and reduce per-student spending by $52 next year, Tata said, while funneling additional resources toward teacher retention in under-enrolled schools and creating new technology and international studies programs in ten schools.
Twenty of the positions to be cut are currently vacant, according to school district leaders. One clerical position at each school would also be cut in Tata's proposal.
The district plans to eliminate 181 months of employment for assistant principals and Tata said he hopes to reduce contracts rather than eliminate positions altogether.
Tata requested a county appropriation of $313.5 million, the same as the school system got last year, despite an expectation that an additional 3,400 students will enroll in the district.
But with some federal funding drying up and state funding in question until the state budget is finalized, Tata said the district faces funding shortages that will require creative solutions.
He outlined a plan to the school board that would re-purpose funds to create "high-demand schools."
"Every student deserves to be in a high-quality school," he said.
He plans to stabilize five traditional elementary schools that are either under-enrolled or have lost significant populations by retaining teachers, which will keep class sizes small and maintain or improve current teacher to student ratios. Tata said this retention will make under-enrolled schools more attractive to parents.
Hillburn Drive, Root and Jeffreys Grove elementary schools are currently at the top of the list, Tata said, but those choices could change depending on where students are assigned next year.
He said his budget would maintain art, music and physical education programs at designated elementary schools – protecting 3.5 teacher positions at each school – and retain six additional teacher positions that would have otherwise been cut. Nineteen teachers total will be affected by the plan.
The $1.25 billion budget also ensures foreign language programs at all of the district's middle schools, maintains 26 pre-kindergarten classrooms that will no longer be funded federally and expands alternative learning program seats from 1,346 to 2,106.
Board members praised Tata's proposal during a work session before the scheduled school board meeting Tuesday evening. Keith Sutton called the proposal "very innovative" and Chairman Ron Margiotta commended the superintendent for presenting "somewhat surprising" educational initiatives.
"It affects many jobs and many lives, so we have to have a pretty somber tone around this budget," Tata said. "But we do feel like in some tough budget times, we've been able to mitigate the impact on the classroom."
Later Tuesday at a public forum sponsored by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children and Great Schools in Wake, dozens of parents spoke out about the proposed Wake Schools Choice plan for student assignment, which would allow parents to choose from 10 elementary, five middle and five high schools based on their addresses.
The plan was developed by consultants hired by the Wake Education Partnership and Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in response to the board's controversial neighborhood schools assignment policy.
Charles Upchurch, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has six grandchildren in Wake County schools.
"I have mixed emotions about (the Wake Schools Choice plan), but it's better than what they were originally proposing," he said.
Others were skeptical. While Lisa Morrell, the mother of two Wake County students, said the plan gave her "some hope," she still had concerns.
"We could still end up being a system like Charlotte with completely segregated and poor-performing schools," she said.
The board has not formally discussed or adopted any part of the choice plan. Tata said he is reviewing the plan carefully, but isn't ready to make any recommendations on the issue.