Politics & Government

Wake wrestles with school budget gap

Wake County school leaders are warning that they may have to take steps such as increasing class sizes, reducing custodial services and charging students to participate in sports unless they get enough money this year.

The school board has called a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss how to close a potential $16.8 million budget gap for the fiscal year that starts in July. Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann has recommended providing $11.8 million less than requested by the school board. The state House budget requires $5 million more in local money than school administrators projected.

On Tuesday, school administrative staff will present a long list of potential strategies that could be used to reduce the $16.8 million gap. This wouldn’t be the first time that Wake school leaders have warned they might take unpopular decisions affecting programs such as arts and sports during budget disputes.

Some potential strategies are directly targeted at staff, such as potentially raising employee dental insurance premiums and freezing the amount that the district supplements state pay provided to teachers.

Losing patience

The City of Raleigh and Wake County are reviewing where dollars collected through a room occupancy tax and prepared food and beverage tax will go, and Cary wants to ensure it gets its fair share.

Funds from the two taxes go toward new and existing convention centers, civic centers, museums and other cultural, sports and art facilities in the county, including the WakeMed Soccer Park, the Cary Tennis Park and the U.S.A. Baseball National Training Complex.

The Town of Cary receives a fixed percentage of occupancy tax collections each year but does not receive a set food and beverage tax disbursement.

Historically, approximately 20 percent of the occupancy tax has been generated in Cary, but there is an estimated $6 million gap in recent years between what is generated by businesses in Cary and what comes back to the town to fund its facilities, according to town staff.

“I am losing patience,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said at a May 26 town council meeting. “We don’t have a voice. We are funding all of Raleigh’s projects, and I’m getting tired of it frankly.

“I’ve talked with the Morrisville mayor, and together we’ve got a pretty big chunk of change that’s going to Raleigh,” Weinbrecht said. “We better start seeing some of that money coming back or I’m going to ask that we go to the legislature to get this thing changed because it’s ridiculous.”

Fletcher will run

Veteran Wake County school board member Bill Fletcher announced this week that he will run for re-election this fall.

Fletcher now represents much of Cary in District 9, but he and two other board members were placed in the new District 6 under election maps drawn by the General Assembly in 2013. In an effort to avoid running against fellow board member Jim Martin, Fletcher will compete in the new District B regional seat that represents about half the county, mostly the suburban areas.

Fletcher served on the board from 1993 to 2005. He was appointed to fill a vacant position in 2013 and went on to win re-election that fall. Fletcher is the lone Republican on the board, but he noted his ability to work across partisan lines with the Democratic majority.

Filing for all nine school board seats begins June 13.

Seeking peace

The Orange County Board of Commissioners may find their “Kumbaya” moment with city and county school district leaders over hotdogs and adult beverages this summer.

The commissioners, during a joint meeting Thursday, lamented the confrontational public discussion this year in the face of a combined $8 million budget increase for the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts. Commissioner Barry Jacobs suggested working on the budget process to find a better way – one that doesn’t leave parents and education advocates disappointed with the results, he said.

If Orange County is going to talk about being progressive, then its leaders need to be progressive about how they talk with one another, he said.

“To that end, I would like to suggest that sometime over the summer, that the school boards and the county commissioners have a social event, where we don’t necessarily talk about policy, because that would be in violation of the Open Meetings Law, but we invite senior staff and we all just have an informal event,” Jacobs said, “If the manager waives the rule about beer and wine on county property, we can find a nice place outside to just have a cookout and get to know one another better.”

Compiled by T. Keung Hui, Kathryn Trogdon and Tammy Grubb

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