The average homeowner in Wake County would pay at least an extra $80 a year in property taxes to help hire more guidance counselors, give raises to school bus drivers and fund other programs this year, under a plan approved by Wake school leaders.
The school board agreed Tuesday to ask the Wake County Board of Commissioners for a record $45.2 million increase in local education dollars for the 2017-18 school year. School leaders say this 11 percent increase in county funding is needed to help make Wake a better school district.
“This budget is an effort to continue to move us forward aggressively to provide the services necessary to deal with the children, particularly with children who are not yet succeeding at school, but also to stretch those who are to higher heights,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.
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It would require more than a 3 cent property tax increase for the county to come up with the additional $45.2 million requested. Wake County commissioners, who have increased school funding by 20 percent over the past two years, have already been raising concerns about the size of this year’s school budget proposal.
Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the board of commissioners, praised the school system. But he said commissioners will have to weigh the school system’s request with the other county needs this year.
“We’ve seen the superintendent’s budget,” Hutchinson said in an interview Tuesday. “We’ll listen to what the community wants us to do.”
But school board members said Tuesday that the budget meets valuable needs, such as providing more guidance counselors and social workers who can provide help for students, whether it’s mental health issues or advice on college.
“This budget attempts to begin to address that component of what do we need to do to get to that solid, strong school system,” said school board member Jim Martin. “And I think social workers and counselors is one of them.”
Superintendent Jim Merrill had asked last month for a $56.6 million increase. Merrill wanted $13 million in local funding to help cover the cost of state class-size reductions in kindergarten through third grade that were supposed to go into effect this fall.
But a one-year compromise approved by state lawmakers last week delays most of the class-size reductions to the 2018-19 school year. It allowed school leaders to shave $11.4 million off the budget request.
The school board wants commissioners to provide $455.1 million of the $1.6 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year.
Items the school budget would help fund include:
▪ Start a three-year plan to hire more guidance counselors and social workers to reach nationally recommended averages – $10 million;
▪ Operate new schools and support changes related to renovations – $3.9 million;
▪ Increase extra-duty pay for teachers who perform additional jobs such as coach academic and athletic teams – $2.6 million;
▪ Increase pay for support staff who work in hard-to-fill positions such as bus drivers – $2.2 million;
▪ Fund new magnet school themes at Bugg, Lincoln Heights and Millbrook elementary schools and Southeast Raleigh High School – $2 million;
▪ Expand the district’s Office of Equity Affairs – $488,000.
Commissioners will decide in June how much money to provide the school system.