Wake school board reluctantly approves $1.25 billion budget

Posted May 1, 2012 8:57 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2012 5:18 a.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— The Wake County Board of Education voted Tuesday to approve a $1.25 billion spending plan for the upcoming school year, despite disagreement about how the district should make up for budget cuts of nearly $38 million.

The vote was 6 to 3, with several board members saying their "yes" vote was reluctant but necessary, because state law requires the board to have a budget in place by May 15. 

Deborah Prickett, Debra Goldman and John Tedesco voted against it.

Superintendent Tony Tata's proposed $1.25 billion budget cuts $23 million, asks Wake County for a 2.8 percent increase of $8.8 million and taps $28 million of the system's nearly $34 million reserve to pay for recurring expenses.

Some school board members said they would prefer to exhaust the system's reserve, or "rainy day fund" – a move Wake schools' chief business officer, David Neter, has said would be irresponsible.

"We need to spend this money before we ask (county commissioners) for more," said board member Debra Goldman.

School district officials said that $28 million is the equivalent to funding nearly 500 teacher positions. The budget proposal doesn't cut staff positions, but any additional significant loss of funding would likely require job cuts, they said.

The proposed budget also gives a 1 percent raise to teachers and a $500 one-time bonus to other school system staff. It delays opening one new school for a year and includes $4.8 million in savings from transportation spending by adjusting school start and end times. As well, it covers adding 3,500 new students next year.

But it also makes deep cuts to funding for classroom supplies and school cleaning. 

Board Chair Kevin Hill said the cuts make it difficult to run a "world-class" school system.

"I find it hard to support this budget," he said. "The funding cuts have affected the classroom."

Still, he voted to approve it.

The Wake County commissioners will now review the school system's budget as it works to adopt a final county budget by June 18. The school board then has until June 30 to make adjustments based on whether commissioners agree to provide the full $8.8 million requested in the schools budget.

Commissioners have not committed to approving the district's funding request.

Earlier Tuesday, board members also discussed a number of topics regarding the school system's new student assignment plan, including a survey that parents will receive later this month about how the choice-selection process went.

Final student assignments were made public online last week, and parents have two weeks from May 15 to appeal the decisions once official letters are sent.

Parents listed their top preferred schools for their children, and assignment was made using those choices, proximity to the school, where siblings attend, school capacity and other factors.

Wake schools officials said most parents got the schools they wanted, but some parents said the assignment plan acted like a lottery.

Board members also discussed provisions for transportation for nearly 550 students who opted to stay in their current school but their school was not among a school they could choose in the choice selection process.

Board member Jim Martin said the district needs to find a way to provide transportation to all students. School staff said further research and working models might help a majority of the students in need of busing.

Board member John Tedesco, however, wants to wait to see how many parents the school system can help before making a promise.