Wake County school leaders discuss $24 million budget gap

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Leaders of Wake County schools say they want to try meeting with county commissioners again about the budget gap before committing to a plan to close it.

“Are we an efficient business and can we run without meeting the needs in a way that we see fit? Absolutely, we can. Is that what we want to do for our kids? The answer’s still no,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, chair of the Wake County school board at a meeting Tuesday.

The school board asked county commissioners for about $45 million for this school year’s budget compared to last year. Commissioners approved a $21 million increase.

Once the state budget was finalized last month, school administrators began figuring out how to address the funding gap.

RELATED: Budget presentation to the school board

Plans to hire more than 100 additional school counselors and social workers as well as give raises to coaches and other employees who take on extra duties at schools could be at risk.

“The commissioners agreed with us that we needed counselors. They’ve said it publicly. We’ve said it. I think what we didn’t very well make the case of, is that’s not an add-on for us. We’re saying that that is a need,” said Johnson-Hostler.

During a meeting Tuesday, school administrators recommended using $5.9 million from the district’s reserves, which would leave about $1.1 million.

They also recommended a $3 million cut to the transportation budget because the district is having trouble filling jobs in that department. Additionally, administrators noted some federal grant funding would continue into the current school year.

That still leaves a $13.9 million deficit.

Fernando Martinez has two nephews and a niece who he cares for in the school system. He says he’s concerned the board recently approved an update to its policy on police officers in schools but isn’t moving forward on hiring the additional counselors.

“It is a matter of principles and a lack of vision to transform the school environment,” said Martinez, a member of the Education Justice Alliance. “So, that’s the problem, not so much the money. They need to prioritize hiring the school counselors regardless of how much money they get.”

Johnson-Hostler says the board will reach out to try to arrange a meeting between members of the school board and the board of county commissioners.

The school board could finalize the budget in August.

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