CARY — Wake County schools superintendent Tony Tata has just proposed a spending plan for the 2012-13 school year that calls for an $8.8 million increase in the county commission's contribution and the spending of $29 million in the schools' rainy day funds.
The plan also includes a one percent pay hike for teachers and a $500 bonus for other staff.
In his introduction to the 300-page, $1.25 billion operating budget that board members are to discuss at today's meeting, Tata touted system successes such as an increase in the graduation rate, but noted that the system must make up for impending cuts in the federal funding that helped support the schools during the two most recent years. The budget must be approved both the school board and the county commission by June 30; no vote is scheduled for today.
"We have been are and will continue to be a strong school system," Tata said as the full board meeting began.
During recent tight budget years, the county's board of commissioners had kept the local contribution essentially flat, while cutting many other departments. Meanwhile, enrollment continued to increase by several thousand students annually and the state's contribution declined.
Combined with reduced state funding, the result has been a decrease in per-pupil spending. Under Tata's plan, local per-pupil funding would increase by $4 annually.
"First, we are in the fourth year of a recession," Tata said. "Though we are seeing some signs of recovery, we face the expiration of $28 million in federal EduJob funding that helped address previous years' state budget shortfalls, and project further discretionary reductions in state funding in the amount of $7 million."
Spending for next year should also include money for an expected increase of 3,000 students, the opening of five new schools including two single-sex "leadership academies" and the startup of a new assignment plan, according to the document
Tata said the budget builds on progress made this year and is based on three priorities: "classroom teachers and staff, high-performing and high-demand schools and efficient operations."
The one-percent raise for certified employees, teachers and guidance counselors, would be accompanied by a $500 bonus for other employees except the superintendent's leadership staff.
The proposed changes in local contribution will have to pass a county commission where three board members are running for higher office. As early as January of this year, the issue of the school board's leftover fund balance arose at a county commission retreat.
"I have always maintained that they shouldn't have a fund balance," commissioner Tony Gurley said at the January retreat.
He asked whether the schools would reduce their budget request by the amount held over in fund balance. Tata said the money was built up for the purpose of bridging next year's anticipated shortfall.
"WCPSS purposely built up its fund balance through prudent fiscal management," Tata said in his introduction.
Spending $29 million of the $34.6 million fund balance would require a vote to waive the board policy that would otherwise return $16 million to the county commission's coffers.
Gurley and commission chair Paul Coble, both budget hawks, are running for higher office in May elections: Gurley for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor and Coble for the GOP nod for in the 13th U.S. Congressional district race.
Meanwhile, Democratic county commissioner Erv Portman is running for a state senate seat and three school board members are on the ballot for legislative or statewide offices.
County manager David Cooke has acknowledged the schools' likely request for more money, but also noted that other county departments have said they'll need increases for the coming year. They include new precincts for the board of elections, restoring library hours that have been cut, more library materials, more funding for the animal shelter and more resources for restaurant inspections.
"There's plenty of external pressure you're going to hear from the schools system," Cooke said.