CHAPEL HILL- As local leaders wait and wait for a final state budget, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members are struggling with how to fill the funding gaps, even before they know exactly what those gaps will be.
The school board came together for an unusual Monday meeting to consider a $1.7 million dollar package of possible reductions at the local level that could help ease the blow of projected cuts to the state education budget.
And while board members agreed that tough choices must be made, the board was split on a plan to cut the number of gifted education specialists down to one at each elementary school.
Jamezetta Bedford said after four years of budget cuts, the reductions might be unavoidable.
“I’m very reluctant, but I don’t know what else to cut,” said Bedford. “Because we have cut athletics, we have cut foreign languages. I don’t know what else to give up.”
The plan would reduce the total number of specialists through attrition and reassignment, saving the district $385,000. But nearly a dozen gifted education teachers and parents of gifted children came out to protest the cuts, saying it would jeopardize an already overburdened program.
Wendy Morgan has a child in the gifted education program at Morris Grove.
“I’m concerned that the creative energies that allow our gifted children to accomplish difficult and impressive feats could easily be overlooked,” said Morgan. “Without the appropriate channels for their gifts, it’s not only possible, but it is likely that many gifted children will become classroom behavior problems.”
Board members argued the size and scope of the gifted program is part of the problem. Citing failures to implement new teaching models and inconsistent implementation from school to school, James Barrett said it’s clear the current model isn’t working.
“We have a demonstrated need for better gifted education,” said Barrett. “What they’re doing today is not better gifted education, and so taking the cut, in some ways, is the shock that’s needed to improve the process.”
Still, some on the board including Michelle Brownstein worried that cutting the staff by a third without revamping the program would leave students underserved.
“We’re not there yet,” said Brownstein. “The best we have right now is our gifted education specialists. I don’t see how the classroom teacher can meet the needs of all the kids in these classrooms without their help.”
Adding to the confusion is the ongoing delay in the state legislature, as next year’s spending plan is tied up in negotiations about a possible tax system overhaul.
Lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through July 31, but local leaders hope to sign off on a budget next week.
Under the Senate’s proposal, the district could lose as much as $1.3 million in funding for teaching assistants, while the House plan would only cut about $300,000. If the final budget more closely resembles the House plan, administrators might not need to implement the proposed reductions at all.
No votes were taken, but the board gave general approval to a series of less controversial cuts, including delaying the addition of a special education classroom and forgoing a onetime bonus to personnel. Members were less certain about a plan to start charging a fee for driver’s education, pending more information about a waiver system.
The proposed spending cuts will return for a formal vote next Thursday, when school board members plan to approve the final budget, even if the state budget is still in limbo.