Education

Budget situation worsens for Wake school system

Posted April 6, 2010 11:42 a.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2010 7:53 p.m. EDT

School Funding (Generic)

— The Wake County Public School System's chief business officer says the school system is facing an additional $20 million in budget cuts, on top of other money problems.

David Neter told school board members during a budget work session Tuesday that the state Department of Public Instruction, at the request of the governor, is expected to reduce state funding for all school systems by 3 percent for the 2010-11 school year.

It's still unclear what that could mean for Wake schools.

"That's my no-good news, but it's what you need to know about," he said. "It will be significant. It will directly impact central services. It will impact the schools."

It could still get worse, Neter added.

The state might have misjudged its revenue projections, he said, and schools could eventually be asked to cut their budgets by 5 percent.

The school system is also expecting a $5 million shortfall in revenue for the current year. Neter said there is a spending freeze on non-essential expenses to help make up for that.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, the school system was already looking at a $20 million shortfall to the $1.2 billion proposed operating budget, which is due to the Wake County Board of Commissioners by May 1.

The school board and district administrators are considering laying off about 70 staff in central services and eliminating 30 to 35 vacant positions to save about $6.64 million. Those cuts would affect instructional services, communications, chief of staff, auxiliary services and administrative services.

"This is a terrible time to be cutting jobs," board member Anne McLaurin said, but acknowledged the lack of money to pay people.

School staff is expected to give details about the layoffs to board members at the next school board meeting on April 20.

In addition, the school system is looking to raise the prices of school meals and is working on a plan to amend the bell schedules for next year to help close the gap.

"It's a drop in the hat," board Chairman Ron Margiotta said, comparing it to the bigger budget picture.

Tuesday evening, the board approved a request by school system staff to raise breakfasts at elementary schools from 80 cents to $1 and from $1 to $1.25 at middle and high schools. Lunch prices would also go up from $1.75 to $2 at elementary schools and $2 to $2.25 at middle and high schools. Reduced breakfast prices would be 30 cents; lunch prices would be 40 cents.

"We've been very frugal," nutrition director Marilyn Moody told the board earlier in the day.

In regard to bell schedules, the board is looking at ways to save money on purchasing buses and hiring drivers to accommodate the anticipated 2,000 additional bus-riders next year.

The school system runs buses at different times to allow buses to run up to three routes in both the mornings and afternoons, cutting down on the number of buses and drivers needed.

Under a plan rejected at last month's board meeting, the school system could have saved about $2.5 million by having some elementary schools start 25 minutes later.

Concerns about how that would affect student performance and students with after-school activities prompted board members to direct school staff to find other alternatives.