Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill’s request for a $48.3 million boost in local funding could grow by $5.8 million as the school board weighs how much money to ask for this year.
Some school board members on Tuesday argued that the uncertainty over county and state funding means they should stand pat on Merrill’s proposal to ask the Wake County Board of Commissioners for $389.8 million – a 14 percent increase in funding. But other board members argued that it’s their duty to ask commissioners for an even greater sum because needs have grown for years and funding hasn’t kept up.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” school board member Kevin Hill told his colleagues. “The three I mentioned will have a direct impact on the classroom.”
Hill wants to ask for an additional $4.8 million to hire more literacy teachers for elementary schools, occupational therapists and special education teachers. He said those positions serve students who’ve been neglected over the years.
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School board member Keith Sutton wants a $2.8 million increase this year in the form of raises for teachers who do extra duties such as athletic and academic coaching. That’s $1 million more than Merrill has proposed. The salary schedule for extra-duty pay was established in 1987, but hasn’t changed for many positions since then.
School board member Jim Martin warned that once the panel adds more items to the budget, even if it’s not fully funded, it will be viewed as a promise by the district.
“We run into a bigger problem if we ask and take it away than if we never asked in the first place,” he said.
The board is scheduled to vote on Merrill’s $1.4 billion operating budget on May 5.
Merrill’s budget comes as James West, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, has said a $48.3 million increase is impractical.
But several of the 21 speakers at Tuesday’s budget public hearing said they’d lobby commissioners to provide the $48.3 million. They pointed out pledges to raise school funding from the all-Democratic Board of Commissioners that took office after last fall’s election.
“The candidates ran and won on a platform that prioritized the importance of strong public schools,” said Amy Womble of Raleigh. “It’s time to move forward on that vision.”
The largest contingent of speakers Tuesday were those pushing for increases in extra-duty pay. Several talked about how coaches are resigning because they can’t afford to put in the extra time for so little pay.
“I think it’s really sad that we’re losing qualified and great teachers and coaches to other jobs because they can’t make ends meet,” said Clarence Inscore, the head football coach at Millbrook High School in Raleigh.
The majority of the $48.3 million increase would go toward pay raises for all 18,000 school employees, including $6 million for a 3-percent pay raise for noncertified staff – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, custodians and clerical staff. Since 2008, noncertified staff have gotten only one raise of 1.2 percent and a $500 increase from the state.
Even if she remained on the job for 30 years, Toni Welch would not earn $30,000 a year in her job as cafeteria manager at Davis Drive Elementary School in Cary. Welch, 27, one of Wake’s youngest cafeteria managers, is hoping to advance to a higher-paying administrative position in the district.
“I do what I do because I love it,” she said between serving lunches Tuesday. “But the 3 percent would help pay the bills.”
Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui
New bell schedules approved
In other action Tuesday:
▪ The school board approved the bell schedules that all of the district’s schools will use for the 2015-16 school year.
Nine schools will see time changes this fall, all for 10 minutes or less. Go to bit.ly/1aLVFtv to view the new times.
▪ The school board modified Superintendent Jim Merrill’s contract to make him eligible for annual pay increases.
Merrill’s increase would be based on the board’s annual evaluation of his performance. The increase could equal up to 5 percent of his annual salary, but half would be paid as a one-time bonus and the other half as an increase in his base salary, which is now at $275,000.
Merrill’s first chance for the pay boost would come after his evaluation for this school year.