Education

Wake County schools want $35.7 million more from commissioners

Wake County school board members want to persuade the public and the county Board of Commissioners that a $35.7 million local funding increase this year is a reasonable request.

The school board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a $1.5 billion operating budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year, but much of the attention is on the request for $421.7 million from the county, or a 9-percent increase from last year. Board members acknowledged it won’t be an easy sell, given that commissioners last year provided a record $44.6 million increase to the school system.

If this year’s request is approved, it would lead to a 23 percent increase in local funding over a two-year period.

“Our commissioners are going to have to show a lot of courage in funding this request once again after the request last year,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said before the vote. “But our citizens have shown they understand this, and in most respects they have shown they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.”

School leaders say most of the $35.7 million local funding increase is needed to keep up with growth, to pay for the impact of state legislative decisions such as a possible 3 percent state increase in teacher pay and to continue programs begun last year. About 10 percent of the local increase would go toward new and expanded programs, including boosting funding for arts programs.

School officials say that although county appropriations per student have increased 6 percent since 2008, state and federal funding are down 1.9 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. Total per-pupil funding remains less than it was eight years ago.

The budget doesn’t include a request for more local money to raise salaries for teachers or other school employees separate from any state increase. Last year’s record local increase allowed all school employees to get a raise.

Benton said the district still is committed to a five-year plan to raise teacher pay to be competitive with what’s offered in other large, high-performing school systems.

“We have not given up on that plan, but we are recognizing the reality that in an election year, we’re expecting the state to step in and continue giving significant increases to our teachers and other employees,” Benton said.

School board member Bill Fletcher said he wished the budget had included items such as more counselors, foreign-language teachers and a larger boost in arts funding. However, he said, the budget is a good step in the right direction.

“This is a reasonable budget that makes small, incremental steps toward providing the resources we need in our classrooms and schools to go beyond being a really good school district to being a great school district,” Fletcher said.

Some critics have noted that Wake’s enrollment growth has turned out to be less than projected during the past few years. But school board member Jim Martin said enrollment has reached projections if attendance at charter schools is included. The district has to forward funding to charters.

“Five percent of our local budget goes to charters, which is an interesting number when you consider we have to do all the negotiations for them,” Martin said.

An indication of how much of an increase the school board could get this year will come May 16, when County Manager Jim Hartmann presents his proposed budget to the commissioners. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county budget June 20.

“We know we have limited funds, and there is a significant gap at this point,” James West, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said during an interview Tuesday. The school system’s request will get a serious and careful review, he said, adding that the board will strive to make “the best decision based on all the competing needs, keeping our taxpayers in mind, not to overburden them too much.”

Also on Tuesday, the school board gave initial approval to the citizenship and character education policy and Pledge of Allegiance policy. Board members said they’ve never had any intention of changing how the Pledge of Allegiance is recited or taught.

The board is not including suggested wording from the N.C. School Boards Association about encouraging “teachers to use the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as an opportunity to teach students about the history concerning coercion and the importance of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.” That wording drew complaints from some parents.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

Local Wake County school funding

The Wake County school system has had some success in recent years in getting the county Board of Commissioners to approve funding close to its requests.

Year

Requested

Received

2012-13

$323.2 million

$318.3 million

2013-14

$327.5 million

$327.5 million

2014-15

$366.8 million

$341.4 million

2015-16

$389.8 million

$386 million

2016-17

$421.7 million

TBD

Source: Wake County Public School System, Wake County Government

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