Wake County Schools

With budget vote nearing, parents of special ed students worry they'll get left behind

Posted May 30, 2018 12:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:20 a.m. EDT

As Wake County commissioners met Wednesday to put the final touches on a $1.3 billion budget plan that includes $461 million for public schools, parents of some of the most vulnerable students are worried they will be left behind.

Lisa Ellison, mom of Cody, remembers the moment a doctor said her 2-year-old boy had a hearing problem.

“All I could think was, 'Will he be able to get a job, not being able to talk on the telephone? Will he be able to fit into normal life?'” she recalled.

Cody's deaf and hard-of-hearing teacher in elementary school, Elizabeth London, saw it another way.

"I knew he was going to make it far," London said.

As Cody became a teenager and nearly had his driver’s license, the family got more tough news: He was slowly losing his eyesight.

“The visual impairment, that one really affected me,” said Cody, a student at Sanderson High School.

There, he works with Heather Livingstone.

“We try to tackle the problems together, we problem solve,” she said.

As many as a dozen specialists have worked with Cody in his school career. Soon he will graduate from Sanderson and attend college at East Carolina. He says he would not have made it without the help.

"I think I probably would have maybe not have been in a good place with my academics if I did not have the special help,” he said.

Cody is just one of about 20,000 special needs students in Wake County public schools. His parents are worried that, as money from a federal grant dries up, the county won't step in to keep special education funded to current levels.

"They make a difference, and I am really scared as to what might happen if the school doesn't get the funding that they need," said Lisa Ellison. "There are going to be some kids suffering."

The Wake County Board of Education is asking the county for almost $490 million, an increase of $59 million over 2017-18, and $29 million more than the county has included in the budget. The school board says $8 million is need to keep nearly 90 special education staff members and maintain current service levels.

"All of a sudden, we have an $8 million hole in terms of federal funding for special needs, said Jessica Holmes, chairwoman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

She says the county is often asked to fill funding gaps left by other governments.

“We are largely making up for losses from the federal government and legislative mandates at the state government level,” she said.

Wake County building new schools

Almost 60 percent of the county budget goes towards the Wake County Public School System and Wake Tech, with about half of the costs dedicated to paying off the bonds used to build new schools.

County commissioners are expected to vote on the final budget on June 4.