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Funding gap will hurt Wake students, school board says

In its $984.4 million budget, approved on Monday, the county Board of Commissioners allotted the school system about $36 million less than the school system requested.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — School leaders said Tuesday that a $36 million gap in the Wake County Board of Education's 2008-2009 budget will have a negative affect on the quality of education students receive.

"There will be an impact on services provided to students," Wake schools Superintendant Del Burns said. "If we eliminate programs that are designed to help students learn, of course, there will be an impact on achievement."

The Wake County Board of Commissioners, on Monday, allotted the school system $319.2 million in its $984 million budget – a move that school board members say was frustrating, shocking and disappointing.

"We're going backwards," school board member Kevin Hill said. "We're going backwards. Make no mistake about it. I am surprised at the commissioners about this budget."

But commissioners say they cannot provide funding that they don't have.

"It's part of the growing pains we are facing here and tough times," Wake County Commissioner Lindy Brown said.

The school system had asked for $355.5 million – about $330 million to provide for the current level of services in programs and another $25 million to expand and start new programs, such as literary coaching, foreign language programs in elementary schools, services for academically gifted students and other initiatives.

Many of those new programs must go, board members said. The board is expected to meet again early next week to decide where to cut funding in existing programs.

"To have a system like we have that is a shining example in North Carolina and in the nation, and put that in jeopardy – I think that just amazes us all," school board member Patti Head said.

About $3 million of the $319 million will go into a reserve account and will only be available if the school system reaches its anticipated growth of 6,000 students next year.

At least one county commissioner has said the school system should return $6.5 million of the 2007-2008 budget that was meant to help offset costs related to a growing student population. But the school system overestimated by about 2,000 students.

In addition, the Board of Commissioners must approve any budget item change for the 2008-2009 calendar that is more than 15 percent of its projected spending.


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