Wake Ed

Wake County school board to vote on $1.5 billion budget proposal

Instructor Daniel Jarvis at left leads his concert band II class of Apex High school students through their music in a very cramped band rehearsal room Thursday, January 28, 2016. The Wake County school board will vote on a budget proposal May 3, 2016 that includes more funding for arts programs.
Instructor Daniel Jarvis at left leads his concert band II class of Apex High school students through their music in a very cramped band rehearsal room Thursday, January 28, 2016. The Wake County school board will vote on a budget proposal May 3, 2016 that includes more funding for arts programs. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Expect a lot of comments from Wake County school board members on Tuesday about why they feel a request for a $35.7 million increase in funding from the county is reasonable and modest.

The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting includes the school board adopting a $1.5 billion operating budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Much of the attention is on the request that the Wake County Board of Commissioners provide $421.7 million, or a 9 percent increase in county funding.

This request comes a year after the commissioners approved a record $44.6 million funding increase for the school system.

The school board had considered at the April 19 budget work session whether to revise Superintendent Jim Merrill’s budget proposal. But board members opted not to do so, in part because of last year’s increase.

School leaders say most of the $35.7 million local funding increase is needed to keep up with growth, pay for the impact of state legislative decisions such as a possible 3 percent increase in teacher pay and 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.

“This is not a gratuitous request,” Merrill told the board on April 5. “This is modest.”

The budget doesn’t include a request for more local money to raise salaries for teachers or other school employees. Last year’s record local increase led to all school employees getting a raise.

Board members may note 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.

Commissioners have been vocal in their support of public education, as shown by last year’s budget

How much commissioners are willing to provide this year could be more problematic. This is an election year when commissioners are also hoping to get public support for raising sales taxes a half-cent to pay for the transit plan.

There’s also been no decision yet whether commissioners would put a school construction bond referendum on this year’s ballot.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda, the board is scheduled to give initial approval to the citizenship and character education policy and Pledge of Allegiance policy. Look for board members to reiterate that they have no intention of changing how the Pledge of Allegiance is recited or taught.

Board members were caught off guard by the public backlash to proposed policy changes that included wording saying the district’s citizenship curriculum “may encourage 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.”

Board members said they were simply adding wording suggested from the N.C. School Boards Association. But that new wording is being dropped.

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