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Protecting teacher bonuses

It doesn't look like teachers will have to take smaller bonus checks to make up a state budget shortfall.

The budget adopted by the General Assembly sets aside $90 million for ABC bonuses, which is $17 million less than what DPI projected is needed. But instead of reducing bonuses, state education officials are looking for ways to come up with the remaining $17 million.

The thought of just reducing the bonuses has gotten very little traction.

Bus ridership times

Wake doesn't have the longest bus rides in the state.

The latest DPI report shows that the average ride time for a Wake student this past school year was 19 minutes, unchanged from the 2006-07 school year. The state average is 24 minutes for bus riders.

The average distance of the longest 5 percent of student ride times in Wake was 9.75 miles, worse than the state average of 8 miles. But the average ride times of that 5 percent of students in Wake was 64 minutes, better than the state average of 74.43 minutes.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's busing changes

Rising fuel costs are forcing Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to make changes in bus service for the upcoming school year.

As noted in today's Charlotte Observer, the school district plans to make elementary students walk about two-tenths of a mile, while stops for middle- and high-school runs will be about four-tenths of a mile from homes. It had been less than one-tenth of a mile this past school year.

To put it in perspective, Wake elementary students now walk three-tenths of a mile to the bus stop. It's a half-mile for middle school and high school students.

Blocking the tax credit bill

It doesn't look like tax credits for special-needs students will get state legislative approval this year.

As noted in today's article, legislation that would allow parents of special-needs students to get a $6,000 a year tax credit for tuition at private schools is locked in committee. Both supporters and opponents concede it's unlikely the legislation will be voted on before the General Assembly recesses this month.

Legislators seem to be heeding the state's education lobby, which uniformly has opposed the bill as being a backdoor attempt toward vouchers for all families.

Missing the mediation window

While it's now unlikely that Wake will pull the trigger, at least two other school boards are taking on their county commissioners to get more money.

Both the Duplin County and Person County school boards have invoked the state law allowing them to seek mediation to request an increase in county funding. It’s a step that could lead both school boards into filing lawsuits.

Over in Wake, the public answer is that no decision has been made yet. But the fact that nothing has happened pretty much means it's a dead issue.

State law says that school boards need to request mediation within seven days of the commissioners adopting the budget. While a judge waived that rule for Wake in 1997, it's a risky thing to hope for again.

Ann Majestic, the Wake school board attorney, advised her clients that they should request mediation within seven days if they intend to do so. It's now been two weeks since commissioners voted June 16.

Putting Wake in the Black

It's not all bad budget news this week for the school district.

As reported in today's paper, former state House Speaker Jim Black paid half of his $1 million fine this week. The money goes to the Wake school system because he was convicted in Wake County.

"I always intended to leave a portion of my estate to help secure the enhancement of North Carolina's public educational system," Black said in a statement. "And while this payment comes a bit premature, I gladly give it knowing that North Carolina's children will be the beneficiaries."

Black has until January to pay the remaining $500,000. 

Tapping out the rainy day fund

One of the questions that's come up is why the school board didn't dip into its rainy day fund on Monday to help clear the $39.3 million deficit.

The answer, according to school administrators, is that it would have been against board policy. The school board adopted a policy in December which says, among other things, it will not use more than 50 percent of its July 1 undesignated operating fund balance to provide funding for the following year's annual budget.

The undesignated operating fund balance as of July 1 was $15,333,685. The board had already agreed in its budget request to use $7.5 million from the fund balance to balance the budget, leaving only around $166,000 left to use.

Treating Wake differently from Meck

Wake commissioners were stretching the truth a bit when they said that they were emulating Mecklenburg County in providing school funding by purpose and function instead of by a lump sum.

Wake school leaders insisted Monday that there's a major difference in how both counties are handling this more detailed level of funding. They argued that Mecklenburg commissioners give the school district much more of a say in setting the funding.

In a nutshell, Wake school leaders were right.

Dealing with rising fuel costs

It doesn't look like rising fuel costs are about to force any drastic changes yet in Wake's school transportation policies.

As noted in today's article, Wake could lose $4.7 million due to the state Board of Education potentially having to make up a $50 million shortfall in funding for fuel and teacher bonuses.

Wake's fuel budget has increased from $5 million in 2006-07 to $7.2 million this fiscal year. It's not surprising considering Wake is now paying $4 per gallon for diesel compared to $2.13 per gallon in June 2007.

State budget shortfall for Wake

We're now seeing the ramifications of higher fuel costs on Wake.

In a message sent late yesterday to local districts, state officials are warning that they could face a $50 million budget shortfall due to rising fuel costa and paying for teacher bonuses. To pay for both items, the State Board of Education might have to basically rob Peter to pay Paul by stripping other funding meant for local districts.

As the state's largest district, Wake could lose $4.7 million in state funding if $50 million is reallocated.

The state Board will discuss the budget sitution today. They're urging school districts to lobby legislators to increase funding to reduce the shortfall.

You can listen online to the meeting, which begins at 3 p.m., by clicking here.

CORRECTION

Typo. I should have said $4.7 million. 

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