Superintendent Jim Merrill is counting on the state – instead of the Wake County Board of Commissioners – to raise salaries for teachers and other school employees this year.
Merrill on Tuesday proposed asking the Wake County Board of Commissioners for $421.7 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year, a $35.7 million increase that would come on top of last year’s record $44.6 million funding boost. Last year, commissioners provided enough money to raise pay for all of Wake’s 19,000 employees. It was the first step of a five-year plan to raise teacher salaries to the national average by 2020.
But Merrill said Tuesday that “in anticipation of – and a strong expectation for – a statewide pay increase,” he wasn’t going to ask commissioners to fund the second year of the teacher pay plan. Wake school administrators are assuming the state will raise salaries by 3 percent this year for teachers and other school employees.
If the state raise is less than 3 percent, school administrators said they’d adjust when a budget is presented next year. Go to www.wcpss.net/budget to view the proposal
Merrill is asking commissioners for $80 million more than what was provided two years ago – a 23.5 percent increase. Merrill points to how per-pupil funding – including county, state and federal dollars – is 0.2 percent less than it was in the 2008-09 school year. Enrollment has increased 14.3 percent in that time span.
“I recognize and truly appreciate last year’s local appropriation was the largest in county history,” Merrill said. “This year’s proposal reflects the magnitude of the remaining backlog.”
Instead of raises, school administrators said most of the $35.7 million local funding increase is needed to keep up with 1,898 new students, pay for the impact of state legislative decisions and continue programs begun last year. For instance, Wake is providing $2.3 million more for the second year of a five-year plan to increase pay for teachers who perform extra duties such as being academic and athletic coaches.
About 10 percent of the local increase would go toward new and expanded programs, including redesigning the academic program of East Wake High School and starting a new high school program in Cary that will offer flexible learning hours and a mix of online and in-person courses.
Merrill’s budget also addresses requests by school board members to increase funding for the arts. He’s recommending providing more visual and performing arts teachers at middle schools and restoring some of the previous cuts to band uniforms, instrument replacement and the repair of stringed instruments.
But many of the requests that school board members made for new programs this year were not included in Merrill’s $1.5 billion operating budget proposal. Chief Business Officer David Neter said staff tried to strike a balance of not asking for too much money and not dipping too much into the school district’s reserves.
Administrators are only recommending using $7 million from the county’s undesignated fund balance, colloquially known as the rainy day fund, to balance the budget. The district has used as much as $28 million a year in reserves to balance prior budgets, but it’s a practice that staff has tried to reduce.
The school board could revise the budget before it’s adopted in May and presented to the commissioners. A budget public hearing and work session are expected April 5.