Wake Ed

Wake County, CMS react differently to school funding hikes

The Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school systems had sharply different reactions to the budgets approved this week by their respective boards of commissioners.

Wake County school leaders were praising commissioners for providing most of the requested $48.3 million increase in local funding. Charlotte-Mecklenburg school leaders were unhappy that their commissioners gave less than half of a requested $39.9 million funding increase.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners approved a 3.65-cent property tax rate increase to help provide $44.6 million more to schools. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners froze the tax rate while giving $17.9 million more to schools.

All the Wake school board members at Tuesday’s meeting spent part of their comment period thanking the commissioners for the record funding increase.

“I want to open my comments with a sincere appreciation of the commissioners’ vote yesterday and the commission’s renewed and productive focus on public schools,” said Wake school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner. “I feel there’s real momentum in this community – as reflected yesterday – to support our schools, our students and our teachers.”

Wake school board member Bill Fletcher wore what he called his “cooperation tie” in recognition of the “demonstrated cooperation” shown by the commissioners in the budget vote.

“I’m very excited about the steps that have been taken – as evidenced by the commission’s budget – and look forward to continued working with those folks who I know have different challenges than we,” Fletcher said. “But we can work together to have this be an even greater community and greater school district, so thank you to them.”

In contrast, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system was far less laudatory of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners.

“We are very disappointed that the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners did not grant our full budget-increase request,” according to the CMS statement. “We certainly understand the large number of competing interests in the county’s budget. However, we also believe that the citizens of Mecklenburg County want public education to be adequately funded.”

Wake and Charlotte-Meck are the two largest school systems in the state. But Wake school supporters have pointed to how CMS, while smaller than Wake, gets more money locally.

CMS will get $408.9 million – which includes a one-time $4 million appropriation – from commissioners for the upcoming fiscal year. Wake will get $386 million after this year’s big hike.

Part of the reason the gap is smaller than normal is how Mecklenburg commissioners didn’t fund the school system’s request for a 2-percent pay raise for all school employees. In not funding the pay raise, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has explained that the county isn’t responsible for pay raises for state employees.

In Wake, commissioners also said they realize that the state has historically provided most of the funding for school employees. But commissioners said they wanted to step up with more local dollars to help fund pay raises for all of the district’s employees.

“Our strategic plan, if you remember, calls for not just a 95-percent graduation rate, but 95 percent of our students ready to lead productive lives, college and/or career ready – and those three clarifiers are extremely important because it takes resources to do that,” said Wake school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton.

“I hope before I die that our state buys into that type of vision and puts in the resources to do it. I feel extremely lucky that we are in a county where people have decided that even if the state is not going to take on that responsibility – as our Constitution says it’s supposed to – that Wake County will do that.

“And that gives me a great deal of hope for our county and a dream for our state as we move on.”