With no fat in the WCPSS operating budget, the only thing left to cut is muscle.
Last week’s Wake County Commission vote to approve its 2016-17 budget left an $11.8 million deficit in next year’s proposed school district operating budget, which had planned for a $35.7 million increase. The difference means school budget staff will be looking for ways to surgically reduce spending.
This is on top of an expected additional $5 million shortfall in local funding caused by anticipated changes in the state budget. The proposed school system budget was developed assuming a 3 percent state increase in teacher salaries this year, but the General Assembly is leaning towards a 4 to 6 percent increase.
Since the local salary supplement is a percentage of the state’s base salary schedule, a larger pay raise will in turn increase local salary spending. The $5 million difference is the same amount that Commissioner Betty Lou Ward suggested increasing the county’s education spending amount by when she spoke before the budget vote. Her motion failed 2-5, with only Commissioner Jessica Holmes voting with Ward.
At the school board meeting on Tuesday, members expressed their gratitude to the county commissioners for their continued support of local education funding, but they also directed district personnel to complete the hard task of looking into the new budget to find ways to close an almost $17 million funding gap.
“We will make cuts this year,” School Board Chairman Tom Benton said. “Some of them will be painful. This will not stop our progress, and progress has been great over the last few years. It may slow momentum, but it will not stop the progress of our school system as we continue to seek to be a leader in our state and national public education system.”
The question now is: What will be cut and what will cost more?
WCPSS Chief Finance Officer David Neter told the school board during a special session on May 31 that the hole could be filled through a combination of fee increases and spending cuts.
Final budget decisions cannot be made until the General Assembly finishes the state budget for the next fiscal year, which is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks. The school board adopted an interim budget resolution to allow for spending to open the 40 or so year-round schools to students on July 11.
“It allows us to move forward as we have been. It does not allow us to move forward with new items,” Neter told the board. “It should not impact the schools’ opening.”
Once the state budget is ratified, WCPSS staff will evaluate the levels of funding and bring recommended budget adjustments to the board on July 19. The board will adopt a final 2016-17 budget on Aug. 2, just before traditional schools are set to return.
Although the school district is targeting areas that don’t affect personnel levels, the cuts will have an impact district-wide.
“It’s possible that once the adjustments are made it will impact not only those 40 (year-round) schools, but all schools,” Neter said.