With little new revenue anticipated from the state this year, the city’s school board members on Wednesday evening wrestled with the potential consequences of cutting nearly 10-percent of the district’s budget to close a $45 million budget gap.
Board member Jonathan Hodges said the cuts will reverse the gains that have been made in recent years and impede the district’s ability to deliver education to its 28,000 students many of whom come from impoverished families.
“We’re not going to be able to address the particularized needs of these students in this district,” he said. He said the heavy concentration of poverty in the city requires the school system to provide additional resources to allow pupils to overcome their socio-economic circumstance.
The district uses an intervention program to target students behind in reading and mathematics which will be curtailed as a result of the cuts, said officials. “We have provided numerous interventions beyond what you might see in more privileged districts to help our students catch up in reading, math, and other academic areas,” said state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans.
Board member Errol Kerr asked the superintendent if he thought about the impacts the cuts will have on the district. Evans responded the cuts mean fewer consultants, reduced professional development for teachers, and fewer interventions for young people behind in reading.
Evans’ staff has drawn up a sheet with areas the district may be able to make cuts to close the budget shortfall driven by increase in benefits cost, insurance expenses, and pension payments.
The list includes reducing reliance on building leases to save $2.5 million, closing schools to save $4.2 million, cutting positions in central office to save $4.3 million. It also includes reduction in maintenance contract to save $2 million, transportation to save $4 million, substitutes to save $2 million, professional development to save $1.2 million.
Evans provided an updated list to board members which includes cuts to one athletic program to save $700,000. The list also calls for the elimination of one position in each school to save $4.1 million.
The district may also be able to obtain $5 million by selling its old office building on Church Street. The list also includes a $4 million cut to stipend payments among other items.
$51.9 million could be saved through the listed cuts.
Evans has said this round of cuts will spare teachers and principals.
“If you don’t do this how many teachers will be affected in the schools?” asked school board president Christopher Irving.
“Up to 500,” answered Evans.
The district laid off more than 300 employees at the end of the last school year.
School board members said the cuts are a result of the state’s “illegal” underfunding of the school district. Over the past six years, the district has been underfunded by $173.8 million, according to the Education Law Center.
Kerr said the massive cuts will undermine the public schools and its ripple effects will be felt in the future. “They will ravage our district and ravage our next generation,” he said. “It’s losing an entire generation.”
The district’s woes will only intensify over the next years, according to an audit report. Auditors predicted a $52.79 million shortfall for this fiscal year. The next year the district will be faced with a $70.1 million gap. And the year after that a $95.91 million shortfall.
“It’s the next year I’m concerned about,” said Irving.