Local News

Wake school board does budget math

Posted May 20, 2008 4:45 p.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2008 10:17 a.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— A day after learning the proposed Wake County budget funds about one-third of their requested increase for next year, school board members met Tuesday to begin thinking about what to cut.

County Manager David Cooke on Monday recommending giving the school system an extra $18.5 million for the 2008-09 year as part of his $983.4 million budget proposal that included a small tax increase. The additional money would raise the county's support for area schools to $319.2 million.

School district administrators in March requested an extra $35 million from the county for next year to fund new schools and enrollment increases. They later said they expected growth in the county's tax base would fund about half of that amount.

Last month, the school board tacked another $19 million onto the budget request, saying they wanted to fund gang prevention and literacy programs and undertake other initiatives.

"Just to keep (the schools) running, we need the $35 million (requested)," school board Chairwoman Rosa Gill said. "(Getting) $18 million more is not sufficient for us."

The school board and the county's Board of Commissioners planned to meet Wednesday to discuss the budget and other issues.

If the commissioners don't budge on the budget, Gill said, the school board will face some tough decisions in the coming weeks as they try to balance their budget before the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1.

"(It comes down to) whether we cut services to the kids or cut benefits for the employees," she said.

District spokesman Michael Evans said the latter is more likely to happen, noting 82 percent of the district's budget goes to salaries and benefits.

"Although it's very emotional, very testy at times, that's where you can make the biggest balancing effort in the shortest amount of time," Evans said.

District administrators gave the board a list of ways it could cut the budget when it outlined its $35 million request in March. Suggestions included scaling back dental benefits and some raises.

"To cut our dental insurance or anything that they have threatened with would certainly be a blow to teachers," said Jennifer Lanane, president of Wake NCAE, an affiliate of the North Carolina Association of Educators.