08/04/13 — Schools face $4.8 million in cuts

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Schools face $4.8 million in cuts

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 4, 2013 1:50 AM

A little more than three weeks before the first day of school, Wayne County officials are still not sure what impact the state budget will have on everything from jobs to programs.

Wayne County Public Schools faces $4.8 million in reductions in six areas -- classroom teachers ($3.6 million), instructional support ($249,988), teacher assistants ($1.6 million), the Limited English program ($85,494), classroom materials $582,537) and textbooks ($986,681) -- according to preliminary estimates released by N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

"It shows where some of the cuts are," said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for fiscal services. "This is not the whole picture nor is it actual numbers."

Each year, the state hands down allotments of teachers for the district. Ms. Barwick said. But because the budget only recently passed, until final figures are released, it is challenging to do much planning or decision-making, she said.

"You hate to roll that out before you get the real numbers because something could be different," she said. "If you're going to make those types of changes, you would like to make them all at the same time."

Waiting it out is a challenge for everyone, she said.

"Yes, we're getting (the budget) at the ninth hour," she said. "My principals are standing on their heads. People are wondering if they have a job.

"If they passed the budget by June 30, we would have July to work it out. But you don't want to push through too much."

The situation, while not ideal, is not the most dire either.

"Three years ago the discretionary reduction got to be huge. So I can't say this is the worst year," she said, recalling one year when the budget was not passed until November. Those cuts were even more severe, she explained, because the school year was already under way.

"I guess the hard part is we have made so many reductions the past several years, it's at the point, where else do we cut it from? We're pretty much down to bare bones now," she said.

The past five years have been particularly strained for districts. The economy has wreaked havoc on education, resulting in attempts to do more with less.

WCPS's own reversion history -- with money promised by the state later being recalled -- includes $759,977 in 2008-09, $2.9 million turned over the following year, nearly $4 million in 2010-11 and another $5.6 million in 2011-12. Last year, the amount had been predicted at $6.5 million, but ultimately came in at $4.7 million.Throughout, schools superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor has managed to avoid personnel layoffs. Attrition, retirements and not filling some positions have accomplished that.

That might not be possible this year, Ms. Barwick said.

Like everyone else, district officials have heard the rumors and closely followed the Senate, House and governor's budgetary process. One of the categories that kept coming up in conversation, she said, was instructional assistants.

"For the most part, looking at what I've seen, I do think the teacher assistant category is going to be the hardest hit," she said. "How hard we have to hit it, I'm not sure. The whole funding structure has changed.

"We have been looking at the teacher assistant pot for awhile. Now that we have got a tentative number to work with, we have a tentative idea of how to approach it. We're already working behind the scenes. We're already looking at ways to make that work."

It would be unfair, and unwise, she added, to speculate at this point on layoffs in the wake of the latest budget, until DPI provides more definitive figures.

Instead, the only thing to do is prepare for the upcoming school year like any other, she said.

"We have had that discussion. If we don't know anything concrete, do you start with what we already have, do you go ahead and make some changes, add back what we can?" she said. "We're trying to do our homework.

"We are trying to protect the classroom with the least impact as possible. We don't want to sound the alarm, but there is definitely room for concern. Until we go through the process, I'm trying to have faith."