Wake County school board members praise “bold” budget proposal

Posted by T. Keung Hui on March 19, 2014 

Wake County school board members were effusive in their praise Tuesday of Superintendent Jim Merrill’s budget proposal, which calls for a $39 million increase in funding from the county commissioners.

As noted in today’s article, Merrill wants that increase as the first step toward his goals of by 2020 raising Wake County to the top of the state in local per-pupil funding and putting Wake at the national average in teacher pay. Board members who will now review the budget praised it as “bold” while insisting that the increase really isn’t all that big.

Board members liked how Merrill is requesting $29.1 million in new local funding to raise employee pay by 3.5 percent.

"I’d just like to, at first blush, commend the superintendent for his focus on what I believe the board would agree to be essential first steps in supporting our excellent staff and taking the initiative to do what we can locally to make sure they know that,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.

School board member Keith Sutton thanked Merrill and Chief Business Officer David Neter for their presentations.

“It is a very bold budget, but it’s also at the same time a very common-sense budget,” Sutton said. “Let’s make no mistake about it. A $39 million increase is bold but needed.

I think you, as well as the budget staff and Mr. Neter, laid out an excellent case for the expansion. I certainly believe that this board will get behind and support your request. Thank you for your leadership and a very bold step in the right direction for Wake County and our students and teachers."

School board vice chairman Tom Benton said he wanted to support the statements that Fletcher and Sutton had made.

Benton said he also wanted to thank Merrill for putting $150,000 in planning money into the budget for Knightdale schools to review the recommendations of the Knigthdale Area Education Work Group. Benton said the funding shows the district is "putting some money where our mouth has been.”

Benton also brought up the presentation from Neter indicating that the budget is asking for only $60 more per student from the county than what was in the 2008-09 budget. The county has kept the property tax rate flat since then as the district has grown.

"It does not really move us back to where we were in ’08 and ’09,” Benton said. “It’s a start. Even with that, we’re not back to that level of funding per student and it still leaves us significantly behind other districts in North Carolina. So although some of our public may see this as a tremendous increase or request, it’s just getting us back in the ballgame."

School board member Kevin Hill said the public should look at pages 2 and 14 in the budget to see that the $60 per student increase isn’t that big a deal. School officials are focusing on the increase from that year and not how the proposal calls for a $189 per student increase over the current budget.

"The $60-per-pupil increase would only cover one-third of the inflation that we’ve experienced,” Hill said. “And these numbers show, in terms of major districts throughout the country and in North Carolina, we are woefully behind in per-pupil expenditure. We’ve experienced a tremendous amount of growth since 2008. I’m not even sure this is getting us back in the ballpark. I think it’s getting us a good start.

I think our citizens expect the Wake County Public Schools to lead the way. We need the funding to try and do that, at least the funding that we’ve lost over the last six years to help us to do that. So I hope the public will not just hear large numbers in terms of terminal numbers but look at the budget."

School board chairwoman Christine Kushner summed up the board comments on the budget.

"Thank you for communicating both with the public and this board as we begin to further discuss the budget, work with our community as Mr. Hill said to really highlight the needs,” Kushner said. “I’ve heard leadership, support, common-sense, bold. Those are words that describe this budget and we’ll work with staff to make sure we work through the process.”

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