Wake Ed

August 6, 2014

Wake County school leaders object to state funding change

Wake County school leaders are upset that a provision in the new state budget eliminates guaranteed funding for new students, a change they say will hurt growing school districts.

It’s an understatement to say that Wake County school leaders are not happy with the recently approved state budget.

As noted in today’s article, expressions such as “Good Lord,” “idiotic” and “stupid” were uttered at Tuesday’s school board meeting in reference to the budget. Some of the strongest reaction came from a provision in the new budget that eliminates guaranteed funding for new students.

Click here to view a copy of Tuesday’s budget presentation. The section on the growth change is on pg. 18.

The state funds school districts based on the number of students, called ADM for average daily membership.

But under the new budget, starting in 2015-16 the state won’t automatically fund districts for new students.

David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, explained to the board how it works.

Next spring, the state Department of Public Instruction will provide planning allotments to districts for the number of teachers and teacher assistants they’ll receive. Historically, Neter said that next spring’s allotment would be based on projected enrollment for the 2015-16 school year. But now the allotments will be given based on the 2014-15 enrollment.

The funding for growth might eventually be included in the new state budget next year but there’s no guarantee as it will compete against other budget needs.

Wake school leaders say that growing districts are going to be significantly impacted by the change. In Wake’s case, the district has been getting additional state funds for the 3,000+ new students who arrive annually.

Even if funding for growth is included in the state budget, it could cause logistical problems getting the money so much later in the process. School board member Bill Fletcher noted how in the past state budgets haven’t been adopted until as late as November, several months after school has opened. At that point, Fletcher asked would they want to reorganize classes so late in the school year.

“There are a lot of HR issues wrapped up in this,” Neter said of the change. “This is huge.”

School board vice chairman Tom Benton warned that if growth isn’t funded, they’ll need the county to step up.

“Even to maintain what we have is going to take some significant additional revenue from the county,” Benton said.

Superintendent Jim Merrill told the board that “everyone is really surprised by this” change in the ADM funding.

“It simply looks like they’re trying to make all districts front load their growth and then the check will be in the mail later, or not,” Merrill said. “It’s one more thumb screw that very much limits our planning.”

School board chairwoman Christine Kushner said the board’s government relations committee should tackle the issue.

“The issue is to figure out who’s an advocate before November and not after November,” Fletcher said.

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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