Wake Ed

Wake County to vote on school budget and school calendar changes

Charlene Bullock, a bus driver for Southeast Raleigh High School is all smiles as she makes it through pylons during the "serpentine" test at the North Carolina State fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. on April 27, 2016. The Wake County school board is scheduled to vote on asking county commissioners for a $45.2 million budget increase, with part of the money going toward helping to raise the pay for bus drivers.
Charlene Bullock, a bus driver for Southeast Raleigh High School is all smiles as she makes it through pylons during the "serpentine" test at the North Carolina State fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. on April 27, 2016. The Wake County school board is scheduled to vote on asking county commissioners for a $45.2 million budget increase, with part of the money going toward helping to raise the pay for bus drivers. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The Wake County school board could ask Tuesday for a record $45.2 million budget increase from county commissioners and potentially change the calendars at nine schools in 2018.

Superintendent Jim Merrill wants to ask the Wake County Board of Commissioners for $455.1 million for the 2017-18 school year, an 11 percent increase in local school funding. School board members are scheduled to adopt Merrill’s budget proposal, saying the record increase is needed to help make Wake an “exemplary” school system.

“When we get to exemplary status of our school system, then we’re going to have something everybody wants,” school board member Kathy Hartenstine said at last week’s work session reviewing Merrill’s $1.6 billion spending plan. “It’s moving towards there.

“We’ve got to keep that in mind that’s where our goal has got to be. Once we’re exemplary, then we’ve met all the needs and we’ve funded it appropriately “

It could be a tough sell for commissioners, who’ve already raised raised concerns about what the school system will ask for this year. Commissioners have increased school funding by 20 percent over the last two years, including a record $44.6 million increase in 2015.

Merrill initially wanted to ask commissioners for a $56.6 million increase with $13 million helping to cover the cost of meeting new state K-3 class size limits while saving elementary school arts and physical education classes. But school administrators are shaving $11.4 million off the budget because the General Assembly approved legislation last week that delays the bulk of the class-size changes until 2018.

Items the school budget would help fund include:

▪ Start a three-year plan to hire more guidance counselors and social workers to reach nationally recommended averages – $10 million;

▪ Operate new schools and support changes related to renovations – $3.9 million;

▪ Increase extra-duty pay for teachers who perform additional jobs such as coach academic and athletic teams – $2.6 million;

▪ Increase pay for support staff who work in hard-to-fill positions such as bus drivers – $2.2 million;

▪ Fund new magnet school themes at Bugg, Lincoln Heights and Millbrook elementary schools and Southeast Raleigh High School –$2 million;

▪ Expand the district’s Office of Equity Affairs – $488,000.

“I’m excited when I think about the potential over the next several months for the board to define what an extraordinary school system would be comprised of,” Merrill said at last week’s budget work session.

But before the budget adoption, the school board is scheduled to vote on changing the schedules at nine schools, in eastern and southern Wake and Garner for the 2018-19 school year.

Staff have recommended that East Wake and North Garner middle schools and Banks Road, Carver, Lockhart, Rand Road and Vance elementary schools switch to a traditional calendar in 2018. Staff also proposed that Lake Myra and Timber Drive elementary schools switch to a multi-track calendar.

Initially, staff had planned to ask the board to vote on changes at 12 schools. But two weeks ago, the board nixed calendar conversions at Salem Middle School and Alston Ridge and Salem elementary schools while giving the tentative go-ahead with the nine other schools

The board is scheduled to discuss the calendar changes during the work session and vote at the regular meeting.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:

▪ Staff making a recommendation to use open education resource (OER) providers instead of traditional textbook publishers to supply new materials for high school math and language arts in elementary and middle schools;

▪ Adoption of a plan to move occupational therapists and physical therapists to the same salary schedule as speech language pathologists and audiologists. This comes after the school board approved pay raises in 2015;

▪ Adoption of a resolution asking county commissioners to provide $2.2 billion through the 2024 fiscal year to fund 13 new schools, 13 major renovations and other projects;

▪ The school board recognizing the Class of 2017 high school valedictorians, the next-to-last group of students who will get this honor. Wake is phasing out the naming of valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of a new system that will recognize students who achieve at least a weighted-grade point average of 3.75.

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