City schools to ask county for full $3.8 million budget increase

jalexander@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board unanimously voted Thursday night to ask the county for the full $3.8 million in additional money it needs next year, after considering asking for $2.9 million and slashing nearly $1 million from its proposed budget.

The total budget is $135 million. The $3.8 million shortfall comes from a number of expected and unexpected increases. For example, there will be increases in health insurance, retirement, and new teacher pay, along with the Read to Achieve Summer Reading program, which the district predicts will cost $1.9 million.

Board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford and Vice Vhairwoman Mia Burroughs opposed asking for the full amount. Both said, based on conversations with commissioners, it is highly unlikely that the commissioners will grant them the full funds.

Barring cuts elsewhere in county spending, the extra $3.8 million for the city schools would require a tax increase of more than 3 cents per $100 worth of assessed property value, and that’s before any increase the Orange County Schools may seek.

Bedford said that since she has lived in Chapel Hill, the county tax rate has never risen more than 2 cents in a single year.

Orange County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee said schools have always gotten first priority with the commissioners, but he also said that the county schools’ budget request will help determine how much the commissioners grant the city schools.

Cuts still possible

Making the $909,000 in cuts that Superintendent Tom Forcella previously proposed remains a possibility if the county rejects the school board’s request.

The cuts mostly affected Academically or Intellectually Gifted teachers, prompting many parents to criticize the possibility of losing AIG teachers at their schools. School system staff came back and Forcella assured parents, that if cuts needed to be made, they would be spread out and not affect one particular area.

Board member Andrew Davidson proposed at that time asking for the full $3.8 million, but the rest of the board said they wanted to show the county commissioners they were trying to work with them by imaking cuts.

“We have to have some form of realism,” Burroughs repeated Thursday.

“I think $2.9 million is incredibly optimistic,” Bedford added.

But board member Mike Kelley said making $909,000 in cuts could fundamentally change the system’s long-range plan and that board needed to let the commissioners know that.

Davidson agreed.

“The funding number that we came up with was not a negotiated number, it was not a pie-in-the-sky number, it was a number that represented real pain,” Davidson said. “So when we come to the county commissioners to fully fund our schools, we’re asking them in good faith, (and showing) that we are making tough choices and that we are being responsible with our requests. So in light of that, I think it makes sense to ask for the full funding amount.”

At the same time, “The realism side is that we do need to prepare for cuts,” Davidson continued. “ And we need to prepare for multiple rounds of cuts.”

Bedford recommends parents tell the commissioners they are willing to pay more in taxes in order to better their child’s education.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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