Calling it a "subsistence budget," the Wake County school board unanimously voted Tuesday to ask for a record $58.9 million increase in local funding this year.
School leaders want a 14 percent budget increase from the Wake County Board of Commissioners that, if approved, would require an increase in property taxes to fund. School leaders say the money is needed to maintain current levels of services to students while adding more counselors, social workers and psychologists.
“I believe it’s a budget that just begins the baby step towards the exemplary school system that we are trying to achieve," said school board member Kathy Hartenstine. "It’s not what we need. It’s just a beginning of what we need.”
School board vice chairman Jim Martin had earlier in the day encouraged his colleagues to reduce the requested increase to $49 million, saying it would have a better chance of getting approved. But Martin in the end voted for the budget request while saying the school board needs to lobby the state for more money.
“This is not a luxury budget by any stretch of the imagination," Martin said. "This is a subsistence budget.”
The school district's $1.7 billion proposed operating budget for the 2018-19 school year — which includes a request of $489.8 million from the county — now goes to the commissioners. Budget information can be found at www.wcpss.net/budget.
The request comes a week before five Democratic commissioners face a contested May 8 primary fight. The five incumbents are pointing to how they've raised school funding in recent years, while their opponents say it hasn't gone up enough.
Commissioners have increased annual school funding by $89.5 million since 2015, leading to several years in a row of property tax increases. But the past two years, the school board has complained that it's gotten less than what it needed from the county.
In 2016, the school board got $23.9 million of the $35.7 million increase it wanted. It led to the school board making cuts such as reducing how often schools are cleaned.
Last year, the school board got $21 million of the $45.2 million increase it requested. School board members cut back on new programs such as a plan to spend $10 million to hire additional school counselors and social workers.
The school board scaled back the expansion of counselors and social workers to a request of $5 million more this year.
School leaders say $48 million of the proposed increase is needed to maintain what's currently provided. That includes opening four new schools, matching the local share of projected increases in state employee retirement and hospitalization costs, a reduction in federal special-education funding and phasing in state-mandated K-3 class size changes.
School officials have warned that the district can't tap into its reserves heavily this year to make up for budget shortfalls. The district is down to less than $5 million in reserves — less than the amount it takes to run the district for one day.
School board members said commissioners can put the blame on the school board if they get complaints about raising taxes to support public education.
"I do believe that our vote for this budget basically says we are willing for the commissioners to say taxes are raised because of you," Martin said.