Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wake schools seek $8.8 million bump

Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata pitched a budget seeking an $8.8 million increase in county spending for 2012-13, a much smaller hike than CMS'  Hugh Hattabaugh is expected to present next week.

The plan presented to the Wake school board Tuesday calls for $323.2 million from the county (read the full Wake budget proposal here).  Hattabaugh's preliminary plan,  presented Feb. 28,  would ask Mecklenburg commissioners for $355.8 million, $27.5 million more than CMS got this year.  Hattabaugh will make his formal recommendation next Tuesday.

Tata is seeking a 1 percent raise for teachers and a $500 bonus for other staff,  while Hattabaugh is talking about 3 percent across-the-board raises.

Wake is the state's largest district, with more than 146,000 K-12 students this year.  It expects to top 150,000 next year.  CMS  has about 138,000 K-12 students,  plus about 3,000 prekindergarteners, and expects to add about 2,000 in 2012-13.

According to the CMS presentation, it would have taken even more to cover rising costs, enrollment growth and some new spending,  but the district found just over $16 million in "reductions and redirections" that freed up county money.   The largest chunk of that,  $3.9 million,  came from adjusting the average salaries used for the 2012-13 budget to match current reality.

That item raised some questions,  especially given the buzz that CMS has been trying to replace expensive veteran educators with younger,  cheaper ones.  Hattabaugh, the interim superintendent, and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said the downward trend does indicate lower-paid faculty are replacing some higher-paid ones (though it doesn't prove that's being done intentionally).  Shirley notes that the reduction comes to less than half a percent of the CMS payroll,  and that she's heard the state averages are trending down as well.

The most controversial salaries,  those for top administrators,  will likely take shape after the board approves a budget plan in April.  Six years ago,  Peter Gorman inherited a 2006-07 budget done by an interim leader. During that year he added several highly-paid administrative posts.  The current board plans to pick a new superintendent in May;  we'll see what happens when the newcomer takes office.

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