Wake school board looks at more central office job cuts

The board told Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens to look at several positions for possible cuts, and members heard that state funding cuts will require some layoffs in transportation.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Look at cutting more central administration jobs and restoring some to the Project Enlightenment preschool program, the Wake County Board of Education told Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens on Tuesday as the board worked toward a final budget for the 2010-11 year that began last month.

Whatever Hargens and her staff report, however, finance director David Neter told the board that the system will have to lay off some employees in the district's Transportation Department because of state-mandated funding cuts of about $1.2 million.

Neter said the cut in state funding for transportation will not affect buses on the roads, which the board already had decided to increase to accommodate the growing student population.

He did not say how many jobs would be affected.

One area where the budget will rise is for security at board meetings. Raleigh police, some hired to beef up security, arrested 19 protesters at the board's Aug. 20 meeting. At least a few Raleigh officers have been present at board meetings for the past few months.

"We have had some increased costs for security at board meetings," security chief Russ Smith told the board, though he added that Raleigh police have not asked the school system to cover a lot of its expenses. Smith asked for about $60,000 more than the board budgeted for contracted security services last year.

The board approved a $1.4 billion operating and capital preliminary budget in April and anticipated most cuts in state support then. That included 68 layoffs, cutting 57 vacant jobs from the organizational chart and a hiring freeze. Now, it is revisiting the budget after county and state funding has been decided.

The board gave Hargens no dollar target for cuts, but board members who combed through central office positions during the budget work session focused on several:

  • an assistant superintendent position that will become vacant with a retirement next month
  • a government liaison who keeps tabs on state agency decisions and the Legislature
  • a real estate services job in Planning and Construction
  • program evaluator positions the system's Evaluation and Research Department.

Neter had good news for the board in one area, saying that switching from Sprint/Nextel to another provider for about 1,500 district-supplied cell phones will reduce costs to about $32,600 this fiscal year from $211,000 in 2009-10.

Neter would not identify the new provider Tuesday, but said administrators will soon ask the board to approve the change.

Project Enlightenment had planned to have nine fewer employees this year, Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for student support services, said. The board told Hargens to try to restore about half of the cuts.

The school system describes Project Enlightenment as "an early childhood education and early intervention program for children birth through kindergarten age, their parents and teachers."

The board's session Tuesday mixed philosophy and finances.

One area in which the two issues came directly together was when administrators said they would not count on $3.4 million in "disadvantaged students supplemental funding" until it is in the bank in case the district's new diversity-blind student assignment policy creates any problems.

The change away from diversity as an assignment criterion has been controversial and has divided the board between a faction that includes Chairman Ron Margiotta and four members elected last year and one that has four incumbent board members.

The panel showed unusual unanimity, however, in agreeing to restore some of the planned $839,000 cut in Project Enlightenment.

In approving disabled-student funding this year, the Legislature told the state Board of Education to consider whether a local board's "policies or expenditures have contributed to or is [sic] contributing to increased segregation of schools on the basis of race or socio-economic status."

In a series of contentiously argued 5-4 decisions, the Wake board dropped socio-economic diversity as a criterion for school assignments, opting instead for community-based assignments.

Neter said he would be surprised if the disadvantaged-student aid does not come through later this year, but Hargens said administrators moved money around to fund disadvantaged programs that "couldn't wait" for state money to arrive for sure.

Board member John Tedesco said the state would have to compare how all school systems in the state were doing before holding back any money, and "that's not going to happen" this year.

It was Tedesco who connected spending with the overall approach to running schools.

"We need to have some bigger conversations, I think," Tedesco told the board. "Budgets express values. I don't know that we've had that discussion as a board."

The board plans to have a final budget ready for approval next week at a voting meeting.



Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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