Opinion

Wake County needs to fund its schools adequately

Wake County Schools names Cathy Moore Superintendent

The Wake County School Board voted to confirm the appointment of Cathy Moore as the new Superintendent for Wake County Schools on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 in Cary, N.C.
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The Wake County School Board voted to confirm the appointment of Cathy Moore as the new Superintendent for Wake County Schools on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 in Cary, N.C.

Each year around this time, there’s a great deal of interest and discussion about how public schools are funded.

The Wake County Board of Education adopts a budget proposing a funding increase to maintain current levels of service to students and to add or expand programs. The school board’s requested increase is more than what the commissioners want to spend and a debate ensues.

Continuing population growth in Wake County demands additional school services and growth does not pay for these additional services through increases in the tax base alone. Wake County’s prosperity does give its leaders the capacity to generate new revenue needed to fund our school system’s needs and request.

We are fortunate in Wake to have robust job growth, a vibrant housing market, a temperate climate, a moderate cost of living, and one of the lowest property tax rates of any metropolitan area in North Carolina.

While the lower tax burden may make Wake appealing to some, it is also what is holding this area back from addressing some pressing problems.

Commissioners must weigh using tax dollars and county reserve funds to address critical issues exacerbated by growth such as education, transit, public health, and housing. With limited ways to generate revenue, mainly property taxes, the commissioners are wise to carefully review all requests that incur higher expenditures.

While it is reasonable for the commissioners to be informed before making budget decisions, it is equally reasonable for them to use gathered data from the school system to act in the best interest of our community, our economy, and our schools.

The data on the achievements and accolades of Wake Public Schools is impressive. WCPSS had its highest graduation rate ever last year. It continues to have the nation’s highest number of National Board-certified teachers. Yet, WCPSS success continues despite changes in state and federal laws that reduce spending flexibility and cut direct overall funding while increasing the need for more teachers to meet reduced K-3 class size mandates. Wake struggles to deal with the constant impact of student enrollment growth.

To continue its successes and to meet expanding state requirements, the school board has asked for $48 million to maintain WCPSS’s current level of service, and an additional $11 million to add teachers for academically gifted students to meet demand, and to hire more counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

The budget request aligns with WCPSS’s goal to graduate 95 percent of students ready for productive citizenship, as outlined in the school system’s strategic plan (Vision 2020). This strategic plan shows a commitment to excellence, not mediocrity, and its vision is touted by both business leaders and economic development recruiters.

WCPSS’s continued growth has made it the largest school district in NC and the 15th largest in the nation all the while earning an exceptional reputation for maintaining high standards, creating innovative models, and achieving great outcomes. Our school system has long been the heart and soul of this county, its chief economic driver. The first question asked by every prospective employer is always about our public schools.

If we want to maintain WCPSS’s reputation of achieving greatness and overcoming adversity, it will require a commitment to adequately fund its successes as well as its challenges.

At the commissioners’ public hearing, business leaders, employers, parents and students as well as educators all demonstrated their support for public education. The message was clear: fund our schools, pay our teachers and give all students the best opportunity to become productive and contributing citizens.

It is time to substantially advance our children and this county’s future. It’s time for commissioners to stop asking: “Aren’t our schools funded well enough?” and time to start asking: “Are we funding the school system our children and our county deserve, the school system our citizens demand and expect?”

Our organizations support giving WCPSS the $48 million it needs to maintain current levels of service. Now that the legislature has approved much-deserved raises for our teachers, this requires commissioners to dig deep to fund the local cost of these raises. Finally, we strongly believe that the school system has made an effective case for improving the ratio of students per counselors, social workers and psychologists.

C. Steve Parrott is the president of WakeEd Partnership, the business champion for public education Wake County. Yevonne Brannon is the Chair of Great Schools in Wake/Public Schools First NC. Julie von Haefen is the president of the Wake County PTA Council.
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