Local News

School budget cuts hit Wake, Durham classrooms

Posted May 28, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2009 7:09 p.m. EDT

— Cuts in local and state funding are starting to hit classrooms in Wake and Durham counties, where teachers' jobs are in jeopardy and some electives are being eliminated.

Apex Middle School, for example, lost its orchestra because of a tight budget.

"I thought it was a joke, a very sick joke," said Kyrie Antoinette, a 12-year-old violinist at the school who had hoped to audition for the North Carolina School of the Arts in a couple of years. "It is very devastating to see it go."

"I know my son was crushed," said Alison Horton, who had to break the news to her son, Austin, who plays viola in the orchestra.

Wake County school district officials said expenses must be reduced by 5 percent but left it up to administrators at individual schools to decide what to cut.

"There are very difficult decisions teachers and principals have to make right now," district spokesman Michael Evans said. "Second languages are being hit (at some schools). Some electives are being hit in other areas."

Core instruction won't be affected at any school, he said.

Wake County's proposed budget cuts school district funding by $3 million in the 2009-10 school year. In Durham County, a budget plan calls for a 2.8 percent cut for Durham Public Schools, or about $3 million.

Lawmakers continue to work on a state budget, but House committees have recommended slashing education funding by $1.8 billion to help erase a projected $4.5 billion deficit.

About 200 Durham County teaching jobs could be eliminated, said Minnie Forte-Brown, chairwoman of the Board of Education.

Forte-Brown said the district already has lost more than $7 million in state funding and likely will lose more when the state budget is passed.

"It may not be the county's responsibility, but if you want to have a quality school system that we want for our children, somebody has to make up for it," she said.

County Manager Mike Ruffin said the schools can afford to lose some funding because they expect enrollment to drop by almost 1,100 students in the fall.

"I understand and appreciate where the school system finds itself," Ruffin said. "Clearly, we've got to all live on less. We've go to do just like mom and pop do at home. We look at what we've got in the way of income, and our expenses have got to pretty much model that."

The Durham County school board and Board of Commissioners couldn't agree Thursday on how to handle the budget issue, so they agreed to hold another meeting in the coming weeks to continue discussing the situation.

In Apex, Alison Horton said she and other parents and students plan to lobby Apex Middle officials to find other places to cut so the orchestra can join the chorus, art and band programs in surviving the budget ax.