Wake County school leaders to ask county for more money to avoid cuts

The Wake County School Board on Wednesday. Photo by Michael Hyland/CBS North Carolina

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County school board members plan to ask county commissioners for more money to avoid budget cuts, even though some of them are doubtful they’ll receive it.

“But, I think that’s our responsibility, is to continue to speak to our priorities and figure out ways to actually do what’s right by our students in whatever ways we can, given the amount of money we have,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, chair of the Wake County Board of Education.

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School board members are trying to close a $28.8 million budget gap due to changes in state funding and receiving about $24 million less than what they requested from county commissioners. The schools have an operating budget of $1.6 billion.

Commissioners allocated $21 million in additional funding this year and raised property taxes for the fourth year in a row. However, the school board sought a $45 million increase.

“These choices are challenging, and the thing that really hurts me most is that we finally have on the table some resources to really help the children,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.

During a meeting Tuesday, board members looked at several options for closing the budget gap.

Among the the potential cuts: about $10 million to begin hiring about 400 new counselors and social workers, $2.5 million for pay raises for staff members who take on additional duties and $487,813 to expand the district’s Office of Equity Affairs.

Craston Artis worked to get a meeting with superintendent Dr. Jim Merrill earlier this year amid a series of high-profile incidents involving race relations in the county’s schools. He was encouraged by the proposals to address that and is now concerned they could be cut from the budget.

“It’s going to be disheartening, and it’s going to look as though the words of the board are kind of hollow,” said Artis, an advocate who is part of the Community Equity Leadership Team. “We hope that the board moves forward with integrity and really pushes the initiatives that they said they would months ago.”

While school board members try to arrange a meeting with commissioners, they’ll submit their preferences on what cuts to make to school administrators by the end of the week.

“Everything’s on the table for every single board member,” said Johnson-Hostler.

Wake County Commissioner John Burns said he wasn’t familiar with the board’s proposal.

“We have invited the school board to participate in open and frank discussions with both boards and staff,” he said.

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