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Wake school board balances budget

Among funding cut is $543,600 in signing bonuses for teachers; saved is $4.8 million in salary supplements and $4.1 million in dental benefits.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After meeting for more than five hours, the Wake County Board of Education balanced its budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year on Monday, cutting more than $39 million from its spending plan.

Among those items cut was $543,600 in signing bonuses for teachers, $3.3 million for programs for academically gifted students; $4.4 million in foreign language programs in elementary schools; and $2.5 million for literacy coaches.

Among those items spared was $4.8 million in salary supplements and $4.1 million in employer contribution to dental benefits.

School system staff must now review the tentative budget. If there are no changes, the school board is expected to vote on it at a July 15 meeting.

In a move that drew criticism from school board members last week, the Board of Commissioners allotted the Wake County Public School System $319.2 million in its county budget for the 2008-2009 school year – nearly $36 million less than what the school board had requested but a 6 percent increase from the 2007-2008 school year.

School administrators and advocates argued the funding gap will hurt students and will keep the school system from progressing.

"We are going to go backward and end up with a school system that I don't think people are going to like very well," said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

The school system had asked for more than $355 million so that it could continue to provide its current level of services and programs for an estimated 6,000 additional students next school year. About $25 million of that money would have gone to new education programs.

School board members said the proposed budget – of which $3 million is in a reserve account and available only if the school system reaches its anticipated growth – leaves them nearly $12 million short of basic operating costs and without $25 million to start new programs.

"There will be an impact," Wake schools Superintendent Del Burns said. "It is hard to speculate what it will be and when it will touch students, but it will at some point in the process."

County money accounts for a third of the Wake school system's budget. The state supplies 61 percent and the federal government provides 6 percent.

Those sources will bring the school system's budget to around $1 billion for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.


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