Tight budget could cost 200 Durham teaching jobs

Posted April 26, 2010 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated April 26, 2010 6:28 p.m. EDT

— Durham Public Schools could lose about $20 million in local and state funding for the 2010-11 school year, meaning scores of teaching positions could be cut, officials said Monday.

Interim Superintendent Hank Hurd will present his budget proposal to the school board on Thursday. It includes about $22 million in cuts to offset $12 million less in state money and expected cuts in revenue from Durham County.

"No county in the state can absorb the type of reductions that we are facing from state funds," Hurd said.

Last year, officials had to cut about $15 million to balance the 2009-10 district budget, making it more difficult to reduce spending again without eliminating jobs, he said.

"A high percentage of our funds are involved in salaries, so we have no choice," he said.

Hurd said as many as 400 jobs could be eliminated, with as many as half of them teaching positions. About 60 positions slated to be cut in his proposed budget come from the district's Central Office, but it's unclear where the remaining cuts would be made.

"The budget shortfall that we are facing is no less devastating than if the rooftops were blown off of some of our schools. I mean, this is just dire," school board member Heidi Carter said.

Carter said teacher cuts will force class sizes to go up and could eliminate some courses, especially for high school students.

"This just hits us from all angles to all levels," she said.

Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators, said teachers are on edge, both for their own future and for their students'.

"There are so many educators that have no idea whether they are going to have a job next year," Moore said. "If there are more cuts to education, the children will suffer. It's just plain and simple – the children will suffer."

The school board plans to work with county commissioners to obtain as much local funding as possible to soften the impact of the state cuts, Carter said.

"We are doing whatever it takes to work with our county commissioners," she said.

Meanwhile, parents like Betsy Dessauer worry about their children and what cuts to the school district would mean to their education.

"Unfortunately, it's going to adversely affect the children," Dessauer said. "If we need to have more potholes, that's OK. We can deal with more potholes for a year or two. We can't deal with cuts to the school system."