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Durham looks to appropriate funds, save DPS jobs

Several jobs  at George Watts Montessori Magnet School will be saved  if the DPS Board of Education passes a new financial plan.
Several jobs at George Watts Montessori Magnet School will be saved if the DPS Board of Education passes a new financial plan.

Durham County commissioners and the Durham Public Schools Board of Education will likely pass a financial plan tonight to save the jobs of more than 150 teachers.

The plan, proposed by County Manager Mike Ruffin Tuesday, would direct $6.07 million in state lottery funds from the DPS building and debt-service fund to Durham County. Pending that transfer, the county would redirect $4.07 million in property-tax revenue for DPS teacher salaries, said Commissioner Ellen Reckhow.

DPS administrators had planned to cut 237 teaching positions for the 2010-2011 academic year due to the tightening budget. In May, the DPS School Board requested $13 million from the county to save all 237 teaching positions. Ruffin’s original proposal sought to restore 111 jobs, but the arrangement proposed Tuesday could save 179 full-time teachers in addition to a number of part-time employees for a total of the equivalent of 185 full-time teachers.

“When we’re trying to make plans and spend money that we don’t have, it makes planning very difficult,” DPS Board Vice Chair Heidi Carter said of the recent uncertainty of funds. “We want to go ahead and hire as many teachers as we can as soon as possible. It wreaks havoc in schools when you have to make changes last minute in the staffing levels.”

For the 2010-2011 academic year, state resources funding to Durham’s school system will decline by 11.9 percent, or $19.5 million, according to the 2010-11 Board of Education Budget Proposal. Board of Education meeting materials from its March 23 meeting state that DPS is losing a total of about $30 million in funding from its budget after taking into account all sources of revenue.

County commissioners gave tentative approval to the plan Tuesday, pending minor modifications. Ruffin revised the plan Tuesday night and returned it to the County Commissioners, who will present the document to the DPS Board of Education tonight.

“We’re expecting the school board to approve the memorandum of [the] agreement,” Reckhow said.

The North Carolina General Assembly must give final approval to the plans, but the County commissioners are confident that the lottery funds are available for DPS’s use.

“We’ve been assured by Representative Mickey Michaux that these funds will be available to save teaching positions,” Reckhow said. Michaux, a democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly, is the senior chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Of the $6.07 million to be directed to Durham County, about $3.8 million is immediately available. The remaining funds, about $2.2 million, are expected to be generated by the state lottery during the General Assembly’s current session.

“Normally we generate about $4 million [in lottery money] per year,” Reckhow said. “We’re being very, very conservative for next year, counting on only $2.2 [million], so we feel that’s a conservative estimate.”

Although lottery money can save teachers’ jobs this year, further challenges loom in DPS’s future. Reckhow said more than 300 positions will remain at risk for the 2011-2012 school year.

In September 2011, federal stimulus funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will end. The ARRA provided a total of about $36.5 million, according to the 2010-11 Board of Education Budget Proposal. About 64 percent of this amount was used this fiscal year to save jobs, leaving just $13.2 million for next fiscal year.

“We know that we fall off a cliff from a funding point of view next year,” Reckhow said. “There is a bill in Congress that provides additional funds for teachers, but right now there’s not... a great chance of [it passing]. My hope would be maybe next year, with the stimulus money totally gone, it might get greater momentum.”

Carter said the Board of Education is forming an ad hoc committee to work on the long-term budget and to communicate with the business community and other stakeholders in Durham to raise money.

“It’s very important to work in tight partnership with the community people to secure funding with teaching and programs,” Carter said. “We also have to continue to scour our budget for any possible duplication of services.... We’ve already done that at a herculean level and we’ll need to continue.”


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