Durham County commissioners voted to give $1.1 million to Durham Public Schools on Monday to help raise pay for classified employees, including teachers assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The funding is half the $2.2 million the school system initially requested to give about 1,700 employees a 3 percent raise. The commissioners said they hope that the Board of Education will direct DPS staff to find funding to cover the rest.
The unanimous vote came after an 80-minute conversation in which George Quick, the county’s chief financial officer, asked whether the school system is spending its local money effectively.
Quick compared Durham’s local funding to the Cabarrus, Gaston and Johnston County school systems. The DPS system serves about 33,263 students, two-thirds of whom receive free or reduced-price lunches. The Cabarrus, Gaston and Johnston systems serve from 30,077 to 33,826 students, with 44.74 percent to 62.30 percent of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch.
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Local funding for those schools ranges from $46 million to $56 million, compared to Durham’s $131 million, according to Quick’s presentation.
“These three counties performed at a higher rate on average of about $80 million less,” which represents 22 cents of the Durham County tax rate, Quick said. County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow pointed out that Durham County has different demographics than those counties.
“They probably are different,” Quick said. “My question is, are they $80 million different?”
Commissioners Chair Michael Page said those numbers suggest “something is not being managed very well here.”
Quick said an independent audit could show why it takes “$80 million more to educate our children in Durham” compared to those other counties, “particularly when you look at the results that we get.”
Despite those concerns, the board voted to give DPS $1.1 million for the salary increase. About 15 percent of that funding will go to the 13 charter schools in Durham, according to state funding requirements.
Commissioners, however, said they plan to discuss their concerns with school board members at a joint meeting next week.
School board member Natalie Beyer attended Monday’s meeting. Afterward she said DPS staff will supply any information the commissioners need and that the system strives to be transparent.
Beyer also noted the recent audit was clean, had no findings of concern and was delivered on time.