Visit the Durham Public Schools budget website.
  • Visit the Durham Public Schools budget website.

At the end of next month, Durham Public Schools will be letting go of at least 323 positions, including laying off 237 classroom teachers, according to a budget proposal to be presented to the Durham school board tonight.

The budget anticipates more than $20 million less in funding from state and local sources, meaning class sizes will increase, old textbooks will be doled out for another year and professional development for teachers and other faculty will continue to be on hold. The total operating budget for 2010-11 is projected to be $383.4 million, with $98.5 million coming from local sources, primarily the county.

Many of the reductions come from the state level, including the elimination of funds for textbooks and technology for schools, which trims almost $2 million off Durham’s spending. But this year and next, the cuts are forcing those who remain to learn how to do without resources they’ve come to depend on.

“We’ve trained our teachers to use technology, and now with these state cuts, we can’t even buy bulbs for our projectors,” said Hank Hurd, interim superintendent for Durham Public Schools. (The bulbs cost about $300 apiece, he said.) These are simple projectors that connect to laptops, not fancy SMART Boards, he pointed out.

“It’s going to be impossible to maintain our upward momentum without instructional staples—when you start talking about textbooks, technology and remedial funds,” Hurd added.

The cuts continue what began with last year’s reductions for the current school year.

If the budget projections announced today hold true, Durham will have let go of 415 teaching positions over two years, said Jennifer Bennett, director of budget and management services for DPS. Adding to the instructional impact, literacy coaches and other tutors were eliminated last year by the state.

This all comes at a time when Durham’s school district is already under intense pressure to raise student achievement. Durham schools staff and board members have to appear Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning to report on its efforts to improve student performance in grades K-8. Manning has also called attention to low-performing high schools in Durham in recent years, threatening a state takeover if the schools didn’t adopt new instructional models that could boost student achievement (i.e. New Tech High School at Hillside and the Southern School of Engineering at Southern High School).

“Our accountability is at an all-time high,” Hurd said. “We believe that in Durham Public Schools, a lot of the initiatives that we’ve implemented are starting to pay big dividends in student learning. And at the same time, when we’re starting to turn the corner on that, our resources have been depleted.”

The outlook for next year is even bleaker, Hurd said, particularly given then fact that one-time stimulus funds from the federal government are being spent for instructional needs. Currently, 156 teachers are being paid strictly with stimulus money, as well as 60 academic coaches and 24 facilitators—all staff that work directly with students. The district expects to have just over $13 million left in stimulus money for next year.

In the past, the district has been able to dip into its fund balance, or “rainy day” fund to help supplement its budget, but that account has been nearly depleted. The district has a feeble $800,000 in the bank, a reduction from $4.1 million in the 2007-08 year. Auditors recommend Durham have at least $16 million in that pot of money in case of fiscal crisis. But the margin there is “razor thin,” said Carolyn Olivarez, executive director for financial services.

What’s next: The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget May 6 and adopt a budget on May 13 to send to the Durham Board of County Commissioners.