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Wake County Schools Eye Possible Budget Cuts In Poor Economy

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Teachers may feel the brunt of cutbacks as the county and school system deal with the reality of a lousy economy. Wake County schools laid out school operating needs before the commission Friday at a retreat work session.

In just five years, Olive Chapel Elementary has grown to more than 1,000 students. School leaders have capped enrollment for next fall. However, 3,500 more students are expected to fill other schools, stretching capacity and the school budget.

Superintendent Bill McNeal says the school system is already cutting back this year.

"Overtime is eliminated, the special project fund is returned," he said.

At the Wake County commissioners retreat on Friday, McNeal acknowledged the lean times. He identified possible cuts from the school budget and teachers may feel it first.

"Our thinking is it's probably going to be a hold-the-line year," he said.

Teachers were hoping for a two-percent supplemental raise. That would cost an additional $6 million the county does not have to give.

McNeal said there is no local pay hike for teachers in his plan. There is also no central office merit pay. The recruitment budget could be cut in half and teacher training stipends could be eliminated.

The cutbacks spare most classrooms during the regular school day and calendar. However, the Summer Academy could be cut back or eliminated as well as the high school Accelerated Learning plan, afterschool tutorials and instructional software.

The county raised taxes in 2000 to build schools, but commission chairman Michael Weeks said that probably will not happen this year.

"We're going to have to negotiate what that means this year and next year if those needs are there, we probably will have to have some kind of tax increase," Weeks said.