School supporters urged the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday to continue their support for public education by fully funding the school board’s request for a $35.7 million increase this year.
Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann has recommended providing a $23.9 million increase in school funding, resulting in a $11.8 million budget gap that school leaders say could lead to higher fees and cuts in services. During Monday afternoon’s budget public hearing, speakers thanked commissioners for providing a record $44.6 million increase in school funding last year but said more needs to be done this year.
“WakeEd asks that you continue your strong investment in the teachers and students of Wake County Public Schools and fully fund the $35.7 million increase so we may continue to reap the economic benefits of a strong school system,” said Steve Parrott, president of the WakeEd Partnership, a business-backed non-profit group that supports public education.
Parrott cited multiple reasons why he said commissioners should increase Hartmann’s school funding recommendation by $11.8 million. He said last year’s record funding increase “was not a one-and-done fix for our school system.”
Although last year's county budget increased per-pupil spending by 6 percent since 2008, Parrott said school enrollment has increased 14 percent in the same timeframe.
Parrott also pointed to how the school board hadn’t demanded that commissioners put a school construction bond referendum on the ballot this year despite having significant needs. The school board approved a $1.98 billion building program last week but has not requested when and how the commissioners provide money for the seven-year program.
Tim Lavallee, vice president of policy and research at WakeEd, pointed to a study by N.C. State economist Michael Walden that found that every $1 spent in the school district’s operating budget generated $1.76 in the local economy. The study was commissioned and paid for by WakeEd and the school system.
“That’s a 76-percent return on your investment and a sure thing,” Lavallee said.
Echoing other speakers, Jennine Vlasaty of the Wake County PTA Council pointed to how school officials say most of the $35.7 million increase is needed to keep up with growth and the impact of state legislative decisions.
“We encourage all of you to continue your strong support for our schools by granting the Wake County Board of Education’s budget request,” Vlasaty told commissioners.
School board Chairman Tom Benton told commissioners that providing the $35.7 million increase will allow the school district to continue to look at innovative partnerships and programs that will result in more choices for students.
“I ask that you fund this budget so we don’t do just a hold-in-place budget,” Benton said.
Hartmann already is proposing a 1.35-cent increase in the property tax rate, which would add about $36 a year to the tax bill for the owner of property valued at $268,000. At last week’s special meeting, some school board members said commissioners should raise taxes an additional cent to come up with the extra $11.8 million.
But Joey Stansbury, a conservative activist and critic of the school system, urged commissioners to consider the financial impact of recent property tax increases, the potential half-cent sales tax increase to fund the Wake Transit plan and future tax increases to pay for school construction bond.
“At some point we’ve got to take a cold hard look at what we’re doing to citizens in Wake County on this front,” Stansbury said.
Stansbury also noted how others in the community, including several speakers on Monday, are pointing to the need for more funding in areas such as mental health.
“It just seems like there’s never enough,” Stansbury said. “There’s never enough money for schools. We’ve got lots of serious issues in the county as well too.”
Commissioners will discuss Hartmann’s proposed $1.19 billion budget on June 13 with a vote June 20.