Durham County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to use $4.1 million from current and future lottery money to restore teaching positions cut last month due to state budget woes.
County attorneys drafted a memorandum of understanding for county commissioners today that summarized their agreement with the schools to fund the 2010-11 school year. The county would use a current $3.8 million balance of lottery money and about $2.2 million projected lottery revenue for next year (that's a purposely low estimate, County Manager Mike Ruffin said), totaling about $6.1 million. Money would be shifted around (see the memo for details) with the net result being an additional $4.1 million for schools next year that hadn't been included in Ruffin's earlier budget proposal. The memo is scheduled to be presented to the school board and signed Thursday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting.
Bottom line: if the memo is signed and the intentions documented there are carried through, many of the 185 teachers who had been cut at the end of the school year could be hired back for the 2010-11 year. (Ruffin's initial budget proposal restored 111 of these teachers. The lottery funds would restore the remaining 74 teachers. View the list of teacher cuts [PDF]).
But although students, parents and community activists who have been pressuring the Durham school board and commissioners for the past two months may feel their wishes have been granted, more trouble looms just over the horizon.
Funding dearths for the 2011-12 school year will be even more dramatic than for the coming year. With next year's estimated state budget cuts and the loss of federal stimulus money, Durham could lose 345 teaching positions for 2011-12, Ruffin said Tuesday. Ruffin said he had just gotten off the phone with interim Superintendent Hank Hurd, who cited the sobering number.
Anticipating the difficulty planning for the 2011-12 school year, commissioners added a paragraph to the end of their memo stating that commissioners and the school board need to agree to begin meeting immediately to reconcile how they'll fund schools through 2012.
In the memo, commissioners also ask that if state legislators let school districts implement furloughs (forced, unpaid days off) that Durham's school board must consider the option, and that the savings would be used for general operations and free up lottery money for school improvements such as maintenance and repairs.
Later in their budget work session, the commissioners finalized some cuts to Ruffin's proposed 4.29-cent tax-rate increase, taking it down to 3.78 cents. For a homeowner with a $200,000 house, that would add $75.60 to his or her property taxes (if the house was in the city, the homeowner will also pay a slight increase in city property taxes). The last-minute reduction came as budget analysts from the county identified a few additional small pockets of revenue and savings anticipated for next year.
Commissioner Becky Heron stated repeatedly that the final proposed tax rate of 3.78 cents was still too high, and that she had wanted to slash it to a 3-cent increase.
The Tuesday session was the final of several budget work sessions the commissioners have held. Monday night, the board also heard the pleas of organizations looking for additional support. Those groups included the Triangle Champions Track Club, and The People's Channel, Durham's public-access programming. In last-minute additions Tuesday, commissioners decided to give the track group $8,873 and the public-access channel $20,000 to help each group continue their efforts. Commissioners also gave the Durham Striders $10,000 and gave the Senior PharmAssist program $4,000 to help with climbing rent in their space at the downtown Center for Senior Life.
The final step of the budget process will be for the Board of Commissioners to approve it. They are scheduled to adopt the budget at a meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 28.