District 26 approves 2013-14 budget

CARY – With the school year set to begin next month, District 26 will be operating under a projected balanced budget.

The $36.3 million spending plan for the 2013-14 school year was approved by the school board on Monday.

Money was allocated for $2 million in capital projects, including a roof project at Three Oaks Elementary, which is nearing completion, and replacement of the driveway at Cary Junior High, which has been completed.

The budget has a projected $158,000 surplus in its operating funds.

Within this budget, the district has increased the number of certified staff members – such as teachers, speech pathologists and psychologists – it has to 175 from 150, at an increased cost of about $180,000.

District officials plan to bring back dedicated teachers for art and music, which were cut as a cost-saving measure several years ago. The plan also includes going to 90-minute language arts periods at the junior high.

"The last three years we've gone through some challenging times," Superintendent Brian Coleman said. "We continued to have balanced budgets and this next year we will also have a balanced budget. Within that balanced budget, we are also adding back specials. It's a great accomplishment where the board and administration wanted to get to eventually. We said, 'Once we could afford it, we'll have it back,' and we've kept that promise."

Although the district is bringing back art and music, in addition to increasing physical education instruction, board member Scott Coffey said the district still hopes to bring back even more special classes.

"We're not done," Coffey said. "It's a much easier path to ... get us to a position where everything is affordable and stable long term and have the kind of educational programs necessary for the community."

Having teachers on the high end of the salary schedule retire and come off the district's books helped toward adding staff members. Retirees were replaced with teachers who are coming in at a base salary.

As part of the spending plan, the district is adding a fourth-grade teacher at Three Oaks.

The district expects there will be 92 fourth-grade students at the school. With the originally planned three fourth-grade teachers, class size would have been just under 31 students per class. Adding the teacher brings class size to 23 students per fourth-grade class.

Fourth grade is when students who are English language learners transition into an English-only classroom from a bilingual classroom.

"By adding a fourth section, we will be able to … provide our highly at-risk students with the needed support to help bridge the gap between where they are currently performing and where they need to perform to meet or exceed state standards," Three Oaks Principal Natalie Wishne wrote in district memo.

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