Wake County school board members have made some creative cuts to fill a $17.5 million budget gap.
Board members approved a 2016-2017 operating budget this week that they say manages to avoid any layoffs, but reduces air conditioning usage slightly, cuts the number of days schools are swept and vacuumed and increases class sizes.
They've also frozen hiring at the central office, postponed an expansion of a few school programs and services and pulled more than $10 million out of the district's fund balance, or savings.
"They all are very painful to have to do," board member Christine Kushner said of the cuts in an interview.
The budget gap emerged when Wake County commissioners gave the school system about $12 million less than it asked for.
"I think they should have fully funded our budget," Kushner said.
The county has increased student spending over the last two years. But Kushner said neither the county nor the state is spending enough to make up for the lean years of the recession. Previous county boards of commissioners reduced per-pupil spending by about 23 percent from 2008 to 2011.
"Since then, we've tried to dig out of that hole using our fund balance. And that's not a great way to do budgeting," she said.
The district is also growing at a rapid rate. The school system is opening five new schools this fall, but many students will still be attending class in trailers, or "mobile classrooms" parked around their main school buildings.
"The pressure of growth is real," Kushner said.
Wake County Commissioner John Burns noted the board of commissioners has significantly increased per-pupil spending since the board flipped from majority Republican to majority Democrat in 2014.
"In fact what is being portrayed in the media as a shortfall is actually a large increase over the prior year's budget," he said, noting even without the $12 million, the county will still spend more per student that it did last school year.
"There's no doubt that the predecessor board was not meeting its obligations," Burns said. "And since then we have in two successive years increased funding from the county. We can't do it all in one bite, but it is our goal to continue to keep up with growth and assist the board of education in expanding its programming."