Early-education program affected by Wake job cuts

Posted April 21, 2010 5:26 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2010 6:19 p.m. EDT

— Among the casualties of Tuesday's layoffs in the Wake County Public School System were nine long-time counselors who work with the county's Project Enlightenment.

For nearly 40 years, the program has helped pre-school students and their parents address behavioral, social and other needs so that children are ready for kindergarten.

Deborah Jeffress spent 33 years with the program and planned to retire this summer.

"That was really hurtful to learn that I'm not allowed back in the building, and my e-mail has been wiped out," she said Wednesday.

Her job was among 68 filled positions in the district's Central Services department that the school board voted 7-1 to eliminate Tuesday night, saving the board an estimated $4 million.

The school system is facing at least a $20 million shortfall in the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. An additional $20 million to $34 million could still be cut, depending on how much funding the state allocates to the school system.

Jeffress said that she understands the school board faces a tough budget but believes the early-intervention program is the wrong place to cut funds.

"We save the school money, because there are many children out there who may have needed to repeat kindergarten that won't because they are doing well now," Jeffress said.

Board member John Tedesco was the only member who voted against the cuts.

"I would rather see us trim more of the fat out of our central administration and keep more of the dollars in our classrooms and show our commitment to our children in the community to protect those intervention services and those special-needs kids," he said Tuesday.

Even those who voted for it said they believe it was necessary but painful.

"We're now getting into, really, the quality of the system and what we, as a community, have come to expect and almost take for granted," said board member Keith Sutton, who also chairs the board's Finance Committee. "We need to maintain that, and we can't if we keep chipping away and chipping away at that core."