Garner Cleveland Record

Questions and answers on Wake County school budget

The public will have its first chance this week to comment officially on a Wake County school budget proposal that includes a request for $48.3 million more in local funding.

Superintendent Jim Merrill has proposed a $1.4 billion operating budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. But much of the reaction has focused on how Merrill wants the Wake County Board of Commissioners to provide $389.8 million – a 14 percent increase in funding.

School administrators say the bulk of the $48.3 million increase would go toward keeping up with enrollment growth, providing staff pay raises and starting some new academic programs. The request sets up a political scenario in which the all-Democratic board of commissioners will have to give a thumbs up or down to a budget request from the nearly all-Democratic school board.

Here are some answers to questions about the budget plan:

Q. What has to happen for the school and county budgets to be adopted by June 30?

A. On Tuesday, the school board will review the budget proposal during an afternoon work session. The public hearing on the budget will be held during the regular meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. in the main board room, 5625 Dillard Drive in Cary. The board is expected to adopt a budget May 5.

On May 18, County Manager Jim Hartmann will present his budget proposal, including how much he recommends commissioners give to the school system. Commissioners will hold public hearings on the budget on June 1, a work session on June 8 and a final vote June 15.

Q. Where does this $48.3 million request stack up compared to past budgets?

A. The largest single-year increase approved by the commissioners was $24.9 million in 2008. The school board had asked for a $29.9 million bump that year.

Q. Why has it been expected that commissioners would be more likely this year to give a big boost in school funding?

A. All seven Democratic commissioners, including the four who were elected in November, accused the former Republican majority of underfunding schools. During last fall’s election campaign, the new commissioners made repeated promises to boost education funding if they were elected.

Even though James West, chairman of the board of commissioners, has called the $48.3 million increase impractical, there will be heavy lobbying of commissioners to provide most, if not all, of the funding increase. Not doing so would leave the commissioners facing accusations that their pledges to raise school funding were mere political rhetoric.

Q. What about the charge that the Wake school system is overburdened with front-office managers?

A. Critics of the school board often try to justify charges of bloated bureaucracies by pointing to individual administrative positions they oppose. But some of those same Republican critics previously echoed the statements Superintendent Tony Tata made in 2011 and 2012 that the administration was lean and actually understaffed.

Q. Why do school officials say funding hasn’t kept up with growth?

A. Between the 2008-09 and 2014-15 school years, the school system saw an overall increase in funding. But county funding per student dropped 4.2 percent during that time while enrollment increased by 17,000 students, or 12.7 percent.

During the 2008-09 school year, the school system received $2,178 per student from commissioners. This school year, it’s $2,085 per student. If funding had stayed at $2,178 per student, the school system would have received $15.2 million more from the county this school year.

Q. How much of a property tax increase would the proposed budget require?

A. It could require a tax-rate increase of 4 cents per $100 of assessed value to generate $48 million in additional revenue. That equals $40 more per year on a $100,000 home and $100 more per year on a $250,000 home.

Q. How much will it cost to raise Wake County’s average teacher salary to the national average?

A. School officials say it will take $80 million more from commissioners to raise Wake’s average teacher salary of $49,597 to the national average of $56,000. Superintendent Jim Merrill has proposed spreading out the increase over five years. The new budget requests the first installment of $16 million in raises.

Q. What is extra-duty pay and why do some people say it needs to be raised?

A. Teachers who perform extra work such as being athletic coaches, academic coaches, band directors and department chairs get a stipend for those duties. The salary schedule for extra-duty pay was established in 1987 but hasn’t changed for many positions since then. Some coaches get the same amount their predecessors received 25 years ago.

Merrill wants to increase extra-duty pay by $1.78 million this year as part of a five-year, $8.4 million plan.

Q. Why does the budget include a 3 percent raise for noncertified staff?

A. Merrill is proposing spending $6 million to give raises to noncertified staff – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, custodians and clerical staff. Since 2008, noncertified staff have gotten only one raise of 1.2 percent and a $500 increase. School officials say it’s leading to shortages in some positions such as bus drivers, who can make more money driving elsewhere.

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

Wake County school budget proposal

Go to bit.ly/1GIHVMG to view the school budget proposal.

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