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Wake schools to bring back hundreds of educators

State cuts to education spending will still leave 300 to 500 teachers out of a job and will leave area public schools with larger class sizes and fewer elective courses.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 900 Wake County public school employees whose contracts weren't renewed last spring because of budget concerns will be rehired for the start of classes next week, officials said Wednesday.

The school district is hurriedly trying to determine its financial situation after lawmakers approved a state budget last week that slashed education spending statewide by almost 10 percent.

Wake schools learned this week that they would lose $35 million in state funding, including money to buy textbooks, upgrade computers and keep school buses running.

Lawmakers chose not to dictate that jobs be cut, giving individual districts the flexibility to balance their budgets as they saw fit. But Wake County school district officials said such steep cuts in revenue had to translate into job losses because most of the district's expenses are tied up in personnel.

"It's going to mean fewer teacher assistants. It's going to mean larger class sizes in elementary schools, in grades 4 and 5. It's also going to mean fewer electives in high schools," school board member Eleanor Goettee said. "I think we're going to be trying to tread water. That's not what we should be doing, and with these cuts, that's going to be hard to do."

The district implemented a hiring freeze and tried to curb spending last fall in preparation for budget cuts. Last spring, officials told nearly 1,500 employees whose contracts expired at the end of June not to count on having a job for the 2009-10 school year.

With the state budget set, officials said Wednesday they would be able to bring 911 people back, including teachers, assistants and social workers. Superintendent Del Burns said another 92 people could be brought back in the coming weeks, depending on how enrollment numbers at schools across the county shake out.

"At the end of the day, it's likely that we will have hundreds of teachers – between 300 and 500 teachers, I would imagine – fewer this year (compared with) last year because of funding reductions," Burns said. "We're very fortunate, however, that we've been able to minimize that number to that level."

Last year, the district employed about 9,500 teachers. He said he expects eventually to have about 9,200 teachers in county classrooms.

Cary High School Principal Doug Thilman said he knows he'll have to do more with fewer resources this year.

"We've lost several of our AP sections and some of our other elective sections that we've normally been able to offer here for a long time," Thilman said. "It's not (just) Cary High School. The whole state, the whole country is suffering through this. We try to ease their fear a little bit."

The cuts have upset many parents and students.

"You have a local and state government that says, 'We're all about the kids,' and all of a sudden, the first thing that happens is the kids get hit, the teachers get hit," parent George Wait said. "That doesn't speak well for us as a state when it pertains to education."


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