Accelify Blog

Durham Schools Could Suffer Deep Cuts (NC)

April 30, 2010

Elisa Benitez doesn’t want school board members to present a ‘C’ budget to county commissioners.

Neither does her teacher, Bryan Proffitt.

"In order for me to be an ‘A’ teacher, I need ‘A’ resources," Proffitt, a Hillside High School teacher, told board members Thursday night.

Those resources will be severely limited as board members consider a $383.4 million budget, down from $451.9 million budgeted last year. Along with other cuts, the proposal reflects $20 million of reductions in state and county funding.

Teachers are among the biggest losers. They make up 263 out of the 323 positions proposed to be cut . This will result in class sizes at every grade level increasing by almost four students. Those who remain will have no funding for staff development. The school district employs 4,600, about half of those teachers, according to the district’s website.

The job reductions represent $18.9 million, or 85 percent, of the $20 million reduction. Cuts last year totaled 298 positions.

"What do we say, what do we do that will resonate with county commissioners and state legislators to find education funding," Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators, said before the meeting. "We have to find ways to raise funds for education. We cannot keep saying it’s OK to cut education. We can’t balance a budget off the backs of children."

Aging textbooks

Next are students. State funding for textbooks, technology, literacy coaches and remediation tutors have been eliminated. Students are reading textbooks that are up to eight years old. Science and math classes, among others, will be affected because of their heavy use of technology.

Elisa, 17, a junior at Hillside, considers that a ‘C’ education. She was one of several students, teachers and parents who asked the board to reconsider the proposed teacher cuts.

"I’m tired of seeing all my classmates struggle to accomplish what they want to do in school because of what all of these budget cuts have done on us," said Elisa, who will participate in a rally today in support of better school funding. "If you care about our education, you would turn in a good full-funded proposal for the schools."

Other cuts include funding for off-duty officers in middle school s, supplies ranging from building materials to gas and tires, and reducing courier services and cell phone usage.

Things may get worse. The proposed state budget, if it passes as is, would mean an additional $1 million loss for the district and create further job cuts.

On top of that, federal dollars that currently pay for 164 positions will end after the 2010-11 school year. Without those jobs, Interim Superintendent Hank Hurd said the result would be "catastrophic."

"We’re still reeling from the freeze that the state imposed last spring," he said before the meeting. "It’s a miracle that this district hasn’t been insolvent this year. It’s been that serious. We can’t overemphasize the fact that our reserves have been depleted by the state."

State funding cuts in 2008-09 has caused the district’s savings to drop from $4.5 million to just over $800,000, forcing school officials to implement a spending freeze.

A district of Durham’s size should have about $16 million in savings to be considered financially healthy. The district is dangerously close to financial crisis, finance officer Carolyn Olivarez told board members.

Low-performing schools

The proposed cuts come at a history-defining time for the district.

In 2004, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning threatened to shut down 66 high schools across the state, including three in Durham, because of low test scores. School officials must go before the judge again Tuesday to present a plan to turn around the district’s lowest performing schools.

Meanwhile, school board members quickly thought up some suggestions to save teaching positions, including donations from school board members and top-level administrators, more parents driving their children to school, reducing administration travel and expenses and raising taxes.

"We are a choice district," Board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said. "We’re a district that says we’re on the move. We need $13 million."

Read more: