County Manager Wendell Davis’ proposed budget gives more money to Durham Public Schools next year, but Davis wants a “get together” this fall to talk about “how we can do better work.”
“Better,” that is, in terms of how well Durham Public Schools educates Durham children.
Presenting a $564.12 million 2015-16 budget to the county commissioners Tuesday night, Davis noted that DPS has the highest per-student spending of North Carolina’s six largest systems but the poorest scores on third- and fifth-grade proficiency tests.
“All of our peers are investing less but getting greater results,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.”
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Commissioners received Davis’s proposal without comment. They have three work sessions on the budget scheduled this week.
The public schools appropriation represents about 31 percent of the total county budget.
The school board asked for a $7.8 million increase from the current year’s funding, $120.23 million, to cover costs for an expected 590 new students next year, retaining 33 teacher positions and pay increases.
Davis recommended a $1.8 million increase to cover enrollment costs, raising the county’s contribution to school operation and capital costs to $122 million.
The school board’s adopted 2015-16 budget is $415.4 million, including the requested $7.8 million county increase.
“We didn’t make that request without serious cuts coming first – the majority of which are from the district central office,” Superintendent Bert L’Homme said when asked to comment on Davis’ recommendations.
“This budget keeps the priority on the classroom, a priority I believe the citizens of Durham can and do support,” L’Homme said.
Also in the budget
Overall, Davis described his proposal as a “maintenance budget,” 2.46 percent larger than 2014-15 but holding the property-tax rate at the current rate of 79.31 cents per $100 valuation: $1,586.20 for a $200,000 house and lot.
The proposal is based on a projected 2.09 percent rise in property-tax revenue, due to growth in the county’s tax base, and a 15.09 percent rise in sales-tax income.
Davis said the sales-tax estimate was “conservative,” as the state legislature is considering changing its formula for distributing sales-tax revenue to send more to rural counties and less to urban areas such as Durham.
“Until something is passed in the legislature, I won’t sleep very well,” he said. “There’s just so much uncertainty.”
Besides the DPS increase, Davis recommended a 3.2 percent raise for Durham Technical Community College, 5.94 percent more for the Museum of Life and Science, employee pay increases of 2 to 3 percent and a net increase of 19.65 full-time equivalent jobs on the county staff.
Among the new positions are eight paramedics, which Davis said will fully staff the county’s ambulance fleet; seven additions to the sheriff’s staff, including two deputies and a forensic specialist; a coordinator for the My Brother’s Keeper program; and a watershed conservationist working on agricultural pollution controls to comply with new water-quality standards in the Falls Lake watershed.
Speaking to the commissioners on Durham Public Schools funding, Davis said that, over the past 12 years, Durham has spent $162 million more, per student, than the next highest North Carolina school system, New Hanover County.
In 2014-15, DPS is spending $3,069 in local funds per student, highest among six “peer counties.” New Hanover spends $2,552, Charlotte-Mecklenburg slightly less, with Guilford at about $2,400, Wake and Forsyth around $2,000 each, according to Davis’ figures.
(According to a statistical profile of North Carolina public-school systems (nando.com/1bi), in 2013-14, Durham’s per-student spending including local, state and federal funds was $9,988.62. Guilford was next highest among the six peers at $9,212.31, followed by New Hanover, $8,908.69; Forsyth, $8,631; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, $8,043.81; and Wake, $7,880.20.)
But on 2013-14 third- and fifth-grade proficiency tests, Durham was lowest of the six, Davis said.
“This is not the county manager beating up on the schools,” Davis said, but improving outcomes is “extremely important” to ensure that Durham young people “have a bright future.”
He quoted the economist Enrico Moretti, author of the book “New Geography of Jobs”: “Cities with a large percentage of interconnected, highly educated workers will become the new factories where ideas and knowledge are forged.”
That prefaced his call for the “get together” on schools and “better work.”
“I envision a collaborative conversation,” Davis said Wednesday, involving the county commissioners, public and charter schools in Durham County, the city, business people “and other key stakeholders.
“These are my just my thoughts,” he said. “I will receive input from the Board of County Commissioners and Durham Public Schools on how best to proceed.”
Durham County’s budget
A summary of the proposed county budget is available at nando.com/1bf; hard copies are available for public review at the Durham County Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., and at the Clerk to the Board’s office, 200 E. Main St. The county manager’s presentation is at nando.com/1bg.
A public hearing for the budget is scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, June 8, in the commissioners’ chamber at 200 E. Main St. Commissioners are expected to vote on the final spending plan during their regular meeting June 22.