Local News

Wake schools bracing for 'economic hurricane'

Posted March 3, 2009 3:46 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County school system's superintendent said the district faces "the highest level of financial uncertainty" he has experienced in his lifetime and that the system is bracing for "an economic hurricane."

While delivering his proposed budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Del Burns told Board of Education members Tuesday afternoon that the school system will continue a hiring freeze for central office positions and warned that contracts set to expire at the end of June might not be renewed.

“It’s scary for those that are on non-renewable contracts because they’re the ones that are out there,” said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators.

About, 1,500 employees have contracts that will expire. It is unknown what departments those employees work in.

“It translates to children’s seats in classrooms and larger class sizes, less services and that’s very grim for public education,” Lanane said.

The system will fill 95 percent of its anticipated school-based positions until state and local budgets are set, Burns said.

It will also make permanent $11 million in state and local cuts initiated in December, Burns said.

“(There will be) no growth, no inflation, no improvements, nothing – except legislated salary increases and benefits projected at a very low level," Burns said.

Despite 2,300 students projected to join the school system next year, Burns said his budget does not ask for any additional funding, because it won't be there.

"This budget maintains the county appropriation request at the prior year level of $316 million," he said. "The result is that the per-pupil county appropriation for 2009-2010 will be less than the per-pupil appropriation on July 1, 2008.”

The per-pupil county appropriation for the 2008-2009 school year was $2,218. This year the county is requesting $2,182.

Burns said it is still unclear how much the school system will lose in state funding but that board members should expect a nearly $40 million funding gap.

Earlier Tuesday, a school board committee decided to look into delaying funding for 12 projects for at least another year or two.

That includes construction of four new schools – Forest Ridge High on Forestville Road in northern Wake County; Rolesville Middle, Walnut Creek Elementary in Raleigh and Wilburn Elementary in Raleigh.

Funding for new technology needs is also on hold.

School board members meet Thursday to discuss the proposed budget. A public hearing may also be held, officials said.