Durham News

Durham County wants audit before consider DPS staff raises

Durham County commissioners say they remain committed to considering a raise for some Durham Public Schools employees but want to see the school system’s annual audit first.

“This board has been very consistent with asking our manager to see how much money they can find to devote to this,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said. “At the same time asking the school board when the audit would be ready.”

School officials indicated in September that the audit would ready by mid to late October, she said. Once October hit, county officials were told mid to late November, she said.

“So it has been a bit of a moving target,” Reckhow said.

Commissioners Chairman Michael Page said the county is “committed in honoring the request as much as we can,” but can’t move forward until the county receives the audit.

Meanwhile, DPS school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said the audit’s timeline for completion is Dec. 1 as it has always been in the 12 years that she has been on the board.

“I cannot imagine who among our staff or our board would have said the audit could have been done in October,” she said. “We have a $450 million budget. There are so many details and checks and balances that go into that.”

“We have not dragged our feet, at all,” she said.

DPS spokeswoman Chrissy Deal echoed those comments.

“No one here is aware of anyone promising the report any earlier,” she wrote in an email.  

The contradicting statements from county leaders follow a budget process earlier this year in which the school system asked for a $7.8 million increase in annual funding. That amount equaled about 71 percent of the county’s $9 million of uncommitted funds, said County Manager Wendell Davis.

The county gave the school system a $3.4 million increase and a total of nearly $124 million, which makes the school system’s per per pupil funding about the third highest in the state, Davis said.

Part of the school system’s request included a 3 percent raise for classified workers, which includes bus drivers, classified workers, teachers assistants, electricians and others. The increase for the workers, who have received one 1.2 percent increase since 2008, was estimated to cost more than $2.25 million.

At the time, Davis said, the county turned down the request as the N.C. General Assembly was considering a budget with measures that could impact school and county funding. County leaders, however, said they want to wait until the state adopted its budget and possibly provide a raise to those workers.

Following the mid-September adoption of the state budget, the school system followed up on a possible increase, and county commissioners said they would consider it – after they received the audit.

Regardless of whether the audit was promised in October or not, Davis said, commissioners have been very clear that they want to see the audit first before they grant additional funding.

“The issue has never been up for debate,” he said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges