Education

Wake schools' good budget news: no new bad news

Posted April 28, 2010 8:06 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2010 5:39 a.m. EDT

— The good news for the Wake County schools Wednesday was that the bad news about next year’s budget was not any worse than expected.

The school board’s Finance Committee heard from district finance officials who have been analyzing the prospects for the system’s 2010-11 budget in light of previous and recent reductions in state support as Gov. Bev Perdue tries to balance a budget that faces revenue shortfalls.

David Neter, the district’s chief business officer, said new cuts in Perdue’s budget amount to $19.7 million – just about the $20 million the district had expected after Perdue announced all state agencies would have to make new cuts, including the Department of Public Instruction.

What is not known yet, however, is how the school system will cut that money. Board members Kevin Hill and Finance chair Keith Sutton both said that cuts are bound to affect classrooms.

“There are not any real surprises,” Neter told the committee.

The new reductions include $13.2 million in what are called discretionary reductions, meaning the school board can decide what to eliminate. About another $6.5 million comes in mandated areas, including less state funding for step increases in salary for teachers, support for transportation and changes in the amount the state pays toward retirement.

The school board last week passed a $1.4 billion budget proposal that included $20 million less in state funding that already was known. That budget eliminated 68 filled and 57 vacant positions in the schools’ Central Services department.

The proposed budget counts on continued county funding at its current level, and the board stressed to county commissioners at a joint meeting that level funding is essential. The schools will not know until probably mid May, however, how they have fared in the overall county budgeting process. The county is looking at reduced revenues as well.

The Finance Committee also heard a report on what a committee of board and community members had concluded in 2003 about ideas to raise money from outside sources, such as naming rights for school facilities. Many ideas were rejected then because they could put the school system in competition with fund-raising efforts by PTAs, booster clubs and other school-based groups, and those issues persist.

“Athletics and band parents and boosters you don’t mess with,” said Hill, a former principal.

Cost-cutting measures that have been floated to deal with the newest cuts in state funding include four-day school weeks, selling naming rights to athletic fields, pay cuts, larger class sizes and fewer school supplies.

The committee did not address any of those ideas Wednesday.