Wake Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill Has No Good Options to Deal with Coming Budget Crunch | News
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wake Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill Has No Good Options to Deal with Coming Budget Crunch

Posted by on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 7:33 AM

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Jim Merrill, superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, has a list of options in the event of a possible fiscal meltdown next school year, but he's not wild about any of them.

Along with the system's 159,000 students, more than 10,000 teachers, and nine school board members, Merrill is looking to the state Senate to pass HB 13, which would give school systems flexibility in meeting state-mandated class-size reductions. The state House has already passed the bill, but it has sat in a Senate committee since February.

If the Senate doesn't act, systems such as Wake could lose art, music, and physical education teaching slots that have been paid for out of funds for regular classroom teachers.

"I wish we didn't have to consider any options," Merrill said after an afternoon school board work session Tuesday.

Earlier, he laid out some of the changes Wake schools might have to adopt if it has to absorb the estimated $26 million cost of paying to continue "specials"—classes in music, art, and PE.

One choice would be to eliminate the special classes and hire teachers certified for elementary grades, where the state mandates lower class sizes. Another would be reassigning students from schools that are overcrowded to schools that have room, a change that would require reassignment. Or, Merrill said, Wake could increase its class sizes in higher grades, reassigning some teachers to help keep K–3 class sizes low. Finally, administrators could create megaclassrooms of as many as forty students, assigning two teachers to each.

Senate Republicans have said they are considering HB 13, but not knowing whether it will pass has left in flux the budgets of school systems across the state. Wake County has to submit a budget by the end of June and has not made a decision on Merrill's proposal, which requires passage by school board members before heading to the county commission.

Speakers at a public hearing during the regular school board session spoke in favor of Merrill's budget, which would require an additional $56 million in local funding from the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

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