Wake Ed

Groups differ about ‘one penny more’ in taxes for schools

The idea of raising Wake County’s property tax rate by “one penny more” to increase school funding is drawing sharply different responses from opposing ends of the political spectrum.

In an email Thursday, Karen Rindge, executive director of the left-leaning WakeUP Wake County, urges people to email Wake commissioners to “ask them to support one penny more for schools and teachers.”

But in a Wednesday blog post, Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with the right-leaning Civitas Institute, writes “one more penny? That's not quite the whole story.”

What’s at issue is that Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann has recommended increasing school funding by $34.6 million for the coming fiscal year. Hartmann’s proposed $1.13 billion operating budget includes a 2.9-cent property tax rate increase, or $77 more per year on the average Wake County home of $265,000.

But the school board has requested a $48.3 million increase, or $13.7 million more than Hartmann’s proposal. School leaders have warned they may have to scale back proposed pay raises for teachers and other school employees if they don’t get full funding from the county.

WakeUP Wake wants commissioners to raise the tax rate by one more penny than Hartmann’s proposal to generate an additional $12.6 million that could go toward teacher pay raises. That extra penny would lead to a 3.9-cent tax rate increase, or $104 more per year on the average homeowner. That’s $27 more than from a 2.9-cent tax increase.

Now commissioners are considering whether to go with that higher 3.9-cent increase when the budget is voted on Monday. Luebke takes Commissioner Betty Lou Ward to task for saying that “we’re not talking about that much more in taxes” in considering that extra penny.

“Schools need money; there's no escaping that reality,” Luebke writes. “WCPSS’s budget request represents a 14 percent increase over the previous year, an excessive amount for many. But schools like everyone else need to live within their budgets.

“Despite the economic downturn, over the past five years the WCPSS operating budget has increased 11 percent, with much of that increase coming in the last year.”

In contrast, Rindge writes in her Thursday Action Alert that “this is a critical time and opportunity to put Wake school funding back on track!”

“SpeakUP for funding public education and raises for teachers and school staff today,” she continues.

Rindge cites a variety of talking points to use in emails to commissioners:

▪ “Since 2008, we've seen a 12.7% increase in students, but local per pupil spending is down 4.2%.”

▪ “Wake is 107th out of 115 school districts in NC in per pupil funding.”

▪ “The full school board funding request could be met with only 1 cent more property tax increase than the County Manager's 2.9 cent proposed increase, or about $27 per average Wake home.”

▪ “The Board of Education would designate the majority of the funding increase for pay raises for all school employees, including teachers and support staff.”

▪ “Our schools are one of the top reasons businesses want to move to Wake County.”

▪ “Wake County students outperformed peers on SATs by 60-70 points.”

▪ “Wake County's property taxes are low compared with surrounding counties.”

▪ “Wake County is growing by 62 people a day, one of the fastest growing counties in the country.”

▪ “Do we want Wake County to be average, or do we want Wake to be great? Invest in our future now!”

It’s far from universal among the all-Democratic board of commissioners about adding that extra penny. For instance, Commissioner John Burns penned a lengthy Facebook post Tuesday explaining his reasons for not supporting that extra penny above the 2.9-cent increase.