CHAPEL HILL –  A budget shortfall for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools could force superintendents and Orange County Commissioners to make tough decisions over the next few months.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese praises Commissioners for preventing layoffs, while managing to keep property taxes at the same level for five years.

However, some of that magic was made possible by tapping money in the school system’s fund balance, which is now depleted. The fund balance supported $2.2 million of paid positions.

LoFrese says that money represents about 32 teachers’ jobs, or 65 teacher’s assistants jobs.

“That’s a lot of positions that provide important services to students,” he says.

***Listen to the full interview between Todd LoFrese and WCHL’s Aaron Keck***

On top of that, the school system must factor in rising health insurance costs. And LoFrese says that about $1 million is earmarked for possible staff salary increases.

“It’s not enough, considering what they’ve been going though for that past five years,” he says. “But a three-percent salary increase puts pressure on the local budget.”

LoFrese says all of that brings the local budget shortfall to $3.3 million.

He won’t rule out cuts to staff and services, but LoFrese says he’d rather not see that happen. He’s especially concerned about teacher’s assistants.

“The reason I’m concerned about that is because there continues to be pressure at the state level,” LoFrese says. “The state made a permanent cut to teacher assistants last year of a certain dollar amount. They’re increasing that this year.”

The 2013 cuts amounted to $120 million and the elimination of 3,850 teacher’s assistants jobs, according to an August report in The News and Observer.

LoFrese says that Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools watches the General Assembly closely; tries to anticipate its moves; and then plans accordingly.

The possibility of a statewide teachers’ raise would be included as a place holder in a budget presented to Orange County Commissioners this year.

Talks with Commissioners begin in February. A Superintendent’s recommended budget will be published sometime in early March, followed by the School Board submitting its recommended budget to the county a few weeks later. LoFrese says the final budget should be completed at the end of June.

Meanwhile, he suggests that concerned parents advocate their positions at the state level.

“This is a statewide issue,” LoFrese says, “and advocacy at the state level where these decisions that are being made that impact us – I think that’s key one right now.”