Wake Schools to expand Equity Affairs Office amid budget shortfall

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County school leaders won’t move forward for now with a plan to add hundreds more counselors and social workers but will fund an expansion of the Office of Equity Affairs, as they grapple with a nearly $29 million budget shortfall.

The board had to account for changes in state funding and for receiving less than what members requested from the county commission. The school board called for a $45 million increase in funding this year and received $21 million of that.

The board sought to begin a three-year plan to add more than 400 counselors and social workers, which would have cost nearly $10 million this year.

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“It wasn’t the easiest for us to say we’re going to remove that as one of our expansions, but it was an expansion. And, we were all committed to reconciling a budget that didn’t create new cuts,” said board chair Monika Johnson-Hostler.

She spoke about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend and pointed out it’s something that will be on the minds of some students as they return to school later this month.

“Silence is seen as complicit,” she said.

The decision comes as school administrators try to address broader issues surrounding race relations in the county’s schools. Incidents last school year generated international headlines and caused the district’s leaders to look for new ways to engage students, teachers and staff.

“We are really trying to get in this day and age, everyone on the page. We’re openly having a dialogue about race. It started with the principals, but we’re committed to making sure that schools have equity teams,” said Johnson-Hostler.

The budget includes about $487,000 for the Equity Affairs Office to hire two additional employees and pay contractors who train school staff.

Craston Artis, who leads the Community Equity Leadership Team, met with administrators to push for the Equity Affairs Office expansion and the additional counselors, among other steps to address the tension in schools.

“I would hate for people to start a conversation about either/or. We want both. Having worked in schools myself, I know how important counselors are,” said Artis. “It’s going to take counselors. It’s going to take teachers to really dig in and to have uncomfortable conversations.”

CBS North Carolina requested emails from school board members as they debated what to cut in recent weeks. The school system compiled a document showing specifically what each member recommended and their explanations for why. You can view that by clicking here:

Board members had planned to spend about $2.5 million in extra-duty pay raises for employees such as coaches. They cut that amount in half. They also cut $1 million for new and revised themes at magnet schools.

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