Local News

Stimulus won't solve Wake schools budget woes

Posted May 20, 2009 10:55 a.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2009 6:35 p.m. EDT

— Despite an influx of $46 million in federal stimulus funds over the next two years, the Wake County Public School System's budget situation is still dire, board members said Wednesday.

Superintendent Del Burns said the district plans to use nearly $16.5 million of the money to expand pre-kindergarten programs, put math coaches into 45 Title I schools with large numbers of students from low-income families and provide extra support to homeless students.

The programs would create 97 jobs, Burns said.

More than $30 million will go toward special education in Title I schools to expand the use of technology in learning and teaching, and help support pre-kindergarten programs because of the additional costs of operating the program for special education students.

The money would also be used to help fill the projected budget shortfall.

Still, 60 percent of funding for Wake County schools comes from the state. School board members, who have anticipated a 5 percent budget cut, say it could end up being more because of lower-than-expected state revenue and cuts to the state budget.

"I just don't want citizens to get the idea that the situation is better than it is actually," school board member Lori Millberg said. "Now, it's looking worse than (5 percent). It could be as high as 10 percent."
Burns said that a 5 percent budget cut would mean about 800 educators' jobs lost. School board members have said many of the teachers whose contracts expire at the end of the year would not be asked to return.

"If the state funding doesn't come in, as we anticipated, then we're looking at an even greater number of positions we won't have next year," he said.

School leaders said they would have liked to use the federal funding to offset other expenses but that the stimulus money comes with parameters.

"We're not even really allowed to use it, instead, to save jobs," Millberg said. "We have to do something additional. That's a requirement."

"Would it have been nice if we could have just spent it on something? That would have been great," said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "But apparently that's not the case."

Federal funding, Lanane said, however, is not the long-term solution.

"That is not the panacea. That's not what's going to save it," she said. "We get so much from the state. They have really got o crank it up down there on Jones Street and figure it out."