Should the Wake County school system move now to offset a $2.1 million cut in school instructional supplies or hold off to see if the money is needed to deal with other budget cuts?
As a quick refresher, the budget proposal adopted May 1 by the school board calls for cutting instructional supplies by $13.96 per student. That covers things like paper and pencils. With some board members balking at approving the budget, staff said they'd look for ways to mitigate the cuts.
The proposal presented by staff at Tuesday's board work session is to give schools an additional $2.1 million for supplies in this fiscal year. The cut for the 2012-13 fiscal year would still occur but this infusion of money would offset it.
Staff would find the money by dipping into the pot that would ultimately be used for the 2012-13 budget fund balance. This would give Wake $2.1 million less to put into fund balance.
With Wake already dipping into the $33 million fund balance for $28 million for this fall, Chief Business Officer Neter said the additional money to cover instructional supplies would increase the hole they're working under for the 2013-14 budget.
School board member John Tedesco said that since they're considering restoring the instructional supplies, he's also "open" to dipping into reserves for $2 million to restore cuts made last year to cleaning services. Neter said they'll evaluate the situation next year to see what they can do with the cleaning situation.
School board chairman Kevin Hill said it would be "prudent" to hold off on the cleaning issue until they see what they're getting for state funding. He said that the supply issue trumps the cleaning issue from his perspective.
School board member Jim Martin asked what the advantage would be to giving the money to schools this fiscal year instead of the next one. Neter said it would allow schools, particularly year-round schools, to "get out of the gates" for the next school year.
School board member Susan Evan said it may be 'premature" to take the money for the instructional supplies when they don't know how much of the $8.8 million increase will be approved by commissioners.
"So we not need to be protecting all of our fund balance till we see how we're going to have to react to cover our budget," Evans said.
Neter called it a "managed risk."
"We believe it’s the appropriate thing to do for our schools at this point," Neter said.
Evans said she's concerned they might need to dip into fund balance more to make up for not getting $8.8 million. If that happens, Neter said it's more likely they would recommend cuts first.
Hill said he's hoping that the commissioners will see that the school board is being 'prudent" in trying not to cut instructional supplies.
"It's impacting the classroom in terms of providing supplies for our students and teachers so I would hope that the commissioners would not think we're being less than frugal." Hill said.
Tedesco said he agreed with Evans that it may be prudent to hold off on spending the money for the supplies. If they get less than an $8.8 million increase and have to make cuts, Tedesco said they may decide other things are more valuable to fund than the instructional supplies.
Neter said that staff has for some time been working on what-if scenarios should the state cut more or less than expected and if the commissioners do or don't give the $8.8 million.
Based on these scenarios, Neter said they believe they can still move forward with the additional money for the supplies even if the worst happens with the state and county.
School board member Deborah Prickett said she had to agree with Evans since they're unsure of what the commissioners will do.
"I have to say I think she’s right on this one," Prickett said of Evans. "I feel comfortable in her judgment.”
"Let me write this down," Hill quipped.
Martin said they need to push ahead with asking for the $8.8 million and restoring the instructional supplies.
“It’s pitiful what we actually supply to our classrooms," Martin said.
Martin said it doesn't make sense to back off on the pressure on the commissioners. He said they need to communicate that it would be "irresponsible" for commissioners not to give $8.8 million more because that would lead to a drop in local per-pupil spending.
Evans said she had just been raising the implications of what would happen by using the money for supplies. She says she has faith in Neter and his department.
"If he's (Neter) sitting here telling me that he has scenarios that can make this work either way then I have to show my vote of confidence to the staff and I would not stand in the way of this if everyone else feels like it's appropriate," Evans said.
Responding to Martin, Tedesco said the district "would be better served to have a little money in the bank to be looking at to cover our hides, so to speak."
"At the end of the day we're going to get an answer," Tedesco said. "If that answer is no, I would hope we're prepared to deal with that $8 million loss plus an additional potential loss. And quite frankly, I’d feel more comfortable if I know we’ve got a little more change in the bank at that time."
The board ended the discussion with no final decision on the issue.