Durham County

Durham Public Schools’ $430M spending plan calls for elimination of 103 positions

Superintendent Bert L'Homme in a recent Durham Public Schools file photo.
Superintendent Bert L'Homme in a recent Durham Public Schools file photo.

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday got its first look at a proposed $430 million spending plan for the 2017-18 school year that calls for the elimination of 103 central office and school-based positions.

School officials said the elimination of the positions does not mean anyone currently employed by DPS would be out of a job.

“No person in this process is scheduled to lose their job,” explained Aaron Beaulieu, the school district’s chief finance officer. “This will all be done through attrition or through vacancies.”

Last year, DPS made dozens of central office cuts and reassigned many displaced workers to other jobs throughout the district.

Superintendent Bert L’Homme said the budget proposal came after much deliberation.

“We have relied on the best thinking of our staff,” L’Homme said. “We have heard from principals and we have heard from teachers and there were requests from principals and teachers we were not able to honor, but we attempted to honor everything we possibly could.”

The elimination of the 103 positions is part of a cost cutting strategy that is projected to net DPS $11.2 million savings.

The school district’s central office cuts would yield $8 million with the remaining $3.2 million coming from schools in the areas of clerical support, assistant principals and teachers.

Teresa Parkinson, an instructional facilitator at Easley Elementary School, said she learned over the recent break that her job was one of 20 facilitator positions on the chopping block.

The cuts would trim $1 million from DPS’ Academic Services payroll.

“Some people don’t really know what I do,” Parkinson said. “I support teachers. I enable them to have the confidence to become strong confident leaders.”

She said the elimination of so many instructional facilitators comes at a time when teachers need more support, not less.

“If you want to keep teachers, if you want to build capacity, if you want students to be successful, you’ve got to continue to have instructional facilitators,” Parkinson said. “It works.”

The draft budget — shared with the school board during an afternoon work session — does not include the $6 million the district would need to pay for arts and physical education teachers if the Republican-led General Assembly does not back down on its mandate for North Carolina school districts to reduce class sizes.

To retain the current level of arts and P.E. teachers, DPS would need $6 million to hire 100 new teachers.

“It will have a tremendous, tremendous impact,” Beaulieu said.

The amount needed to reduce K-3 class sizes for DPS would be less if a proposal by the state House is upheld by the Senate.

Under that plan — House Bill 13 — the cost of the state mandate would be cut to one-third of the initial estimate, or roughly $2.2 million to pay for about 30 teachers.

L’Homme said there is talk of resolution coming soon of the class-size mandate.

But he said it isn’t likely the class-size mandate will be totally scrapped.

“Everything that we hear says that it will not be rolled back to what it was, so there will be some kind of impact on Durham Public Schools,” L’Homme said.

Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, said budget season has become a nightmare for the school district.

“It’s like a big game of chicken between the county, the school board and the state and sitting right in the middle of that is our kids,” Proffitt said.

He urged the board to ask commissioners for the funding it needs to give children the best possible education.

Proffitt also warned county officials to not dig into its coffers to come up with money to pay for additional teachers as a result of the class-size mandate.

“I think if we start seeing counties pick up this money, then I think the state is going to abdicate its responsibility,” Proffitt said.

DPS’ budget is primarily fueled by $203.5 million in state funding and $138.5 million in local funding.

It is rounded out by $25 million in federal money, $39 million for capital outlay, $17 million for child nutrition and $10 million in grants.

DPS officials are asking County Commissioners for $3.5 million in “new money” to pay for charter school enrollment growth, salary and benefit increases and fixed costs such as increases in utilities.

The county’s 13 charter schools would receive a little more than half $1.8 million of the “new money” — $1.2 million for a projected 380-student enrollment growth and $630,000 due under state law requiring school districts to share a percentage of any new local allocation with charter schools.

Preliminary projections for 2017-18 school year charter school enrollment growth anticipated a 700-student increase but that was slashed when Discovery Charter, a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Technology-themed middle school planned for the northern part of the county, announced it would delay its opening for a year while the county prepares to fend off a probable legal challenge from a group of neighbors over the school’s site plan.

Meanwhile, DPS is expected to lose students for the second consecutive year, although officials said the number could now be lower than the 500 students projected earlier because of the Discovery Charter delay.

“We expect the size of the school district to decrease again, but perhaps not as great as we anticipated because one of the charter schools we thought would open is not,” L’Homme said.

DPS is also seeking an additional $1.5 million in “new” recurring money to operate the Whitted School, a new preschool with eight classrooms to serve 144 children.

The budget assumes a 5 percent state increase for certified employees such as teachers and a 3 percent pay increase for classified workers such as teaching assistants and bus drivers.

DPS must match those raises for employees who are paid with local money.

The school district’s budget only relies on $785,000 from fund balance, or its rainy day account, which represents a big change from recent years when DPS routinely used several million from the account to balance its budget.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645