Local Politics

Budget math doesn't add up for schools

Posted July 13, 2009 5:59 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2009 3:10 p.m. EDT

— As House and Senate negotiators continue to haggle over a new state budget, area educators are planning for the new school year – some have already started class – not knowing how much state funding to expect.

"We probably started this year with five or six fewer teachers than we would have," said Parry Graham, principal of Lufkin Road Middle School, a year-round school that started its new year last week.

"We had to act. We knew kids were going to be showing up on July 7, and we had to have teachers in the classes waiting for them," Graham said, noting it's easier to begin short-handed and expand later if funding allows than to cut back after the school year has started.

Two-thirds of the funding for the Wake County Public School System comes from the state, and 80 percent of its costs are in people. Across the school district, 330 teaching assistants will be eliminated and as many as 800 teachers might not be brought back under current budget scenarios.

Graham said many classes are larger than usual at Lufkin Road Middle, and resources are stretched thin.

"It means, for me, as a principal, I have to spend more time doing things like monitoring lunches as opposed to focusing on some of the big picture issues I might normally be able to do," he said.

One of the sticking points in the budget talks has been how to spend the extra revenue that will be generated by proposed tax increases and new taxes. The Senate wants to spend more of it on education, while the House wants more spent on human services programs and public safety.

Gov. Beverly Perdue asked lawmakers to agree on a tax package to avoid deep cuts to education that are now impacting life at Lufkin Road Middle and other schools.

"Schools can't start effectively," Perdue said. "Year-round (schools) started last week in Raleigh, and people still don't know how many teachers are going to be in the classroom. That's fundamentally wrong."

Perdue said Monday that she spent much of the weekend talking by phone with key lawmakers and expects a budget completed soon.

The continuing resolution lawmakers adopted two weeks ago to keep state government running without a budget expires on Wednesday. They are in the process of crafting another continuing resolution.