'Bold' proposed Wake schools budget requests $39 million more from county
Posted March 18
Updated March 19
Cary, N.C. — Wake County Commissioners are being asked to spend $39 million more on schools in 2014-15.
The request is part of Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill’s proposed $1.37 billion 2014-15 budget, presented during Tuesday’s school board meeting. The proposal also includes a 3.5 percent pay increase for teachers and staff.
“The economic impact of the recession on Wake County Public Schools has lingered far too long,” Merrill said in a statement. “In the public sector, real dollars supporting services were reduced while demand for quality and speed continued to rise. We cannot accept that the current lower level of service and funding is the ‘new normal.’”
The proposed budget is part of Merrill’s plan to, by 2020, increase per pupil spending by $400 and raise teacher salaries to the national average. Wake schools’ average teacher salary is $45,512 while the national average is $56,383, the district said.
Merill’s budget proposal is his first since hired by the school board in June.
Dollars reflect growing student population
The increased funding request comes after district per pupil spending dropped 5 percent between 2008 and 2013 - from $9,092 to $8,601 - due to expenditure reductions from state (-6 percent) and local (-8 percent) sources, the district said.
Meanwhile, student enrollment for Wake, the state’s largest school district, increased nearly 11 percent during that time, from 137,706 to 152,684 students.
“I make this request unabashedly when I see a county appropriation decrease of 6 percent during a time when enrollment increased by 10.9 percent,” Merrill wrote. “We are in the beginning stages of a community-based, months-long strategic plan which will help drive future goals and funding needs, but we must begin addressing some of the more obvious, immediate needs.”
Local funding makes up a third of the district’s total budget, the majority of which comes from county commissioners. Fines and forfeitures, earned interest, tuition and parking fees, and fund balance appropriation make up the rest of the local funding.
If approved, the extra funds would raise the district’s per student allocation to $2,238, an increase of $189.
The bulk of the district’s funding – 59 percent – comes from the state. Those dollars are mostly spent on salaries and benefits.
While legislators will not decide on school funding until late spring or early summer, Wake’s proposed budget assumes the state will provide additional funds for student growth and new schools as well as cover most of a 2.5 percent state-mandated teacher salary increase and absorb a 3 percent increase in employer’s hospitalization insurance.
Any budget approved by the school board and county commissioners may change based on how much the district receives from the state.
The rest of the budget comprises of federal grants.
Additional, new costs
The proposed budget reflects additional costs, including:
- More than 3,000 new students
- The opening of Vernon Malone College and Career Academy this fall
- Increased health insurance and utility costs
- Funding the local portion of the 2.5 percent state-mandated teacher salary increase
Merrill hopes to use local dollars to increase teacher pay on top of the state pay raise.
“While we are encouraged by recent comments by the Governor concerning state salary increases for early career teachers, we need to send a strong local message to our employees of their worth and importance,” he wrote.
Merrill also wants to fund a number of initiatives, including:
- $930,000 for K-12 literacy initiatives
- $1.75 million in targeted elementary school funds for “differentiated resourcing”
- $1.7 million to expand pre-K services
- $610,000 for the second year implementation of curriculum/technology facilitators
- $150,000 for the Knightdale Education Working Group
Board supports "bold" budget
Board members were supportive of Merrill’s proposed budget during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s a very bold budget but it’s a very common sense budget,” Keith Sutton said. “Make no mistake about it, a $39 million increase is bold but needed. I certainly believe the board will get behind and support your request.”
Tom Benton doesn’t want the public to have ‘sticker shock.’
“Although the public may see this as a tremendous increase, it’s just getting us back into the ball game,” he said.
Kevin Hill believes the proposed budget is the beginning of a long process to place the district where it needs to be.
“We’re woefully behind in per pupil expenditure, and we’ve experienced tremendous growth since 2008,” he said. “I don’t think it’s getting us back into the ball park but it’s a good start to replace the funding that we lost over the past six years. I hope the public does not just hear large numbers, but look at the budget and see where we’re coming from.”
School board members will discuss the proposed budget during work sessions on April 8 and April 22 – the public will have their say during the April 8 school board meeting – and approve a budget on May 6.