Wake County Schools

'Bold' proposed Wake schools budget requests $39 million more from county

Posted March 18, 2014
Updated March 19, 2014

Wake County Public School System

— 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.


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  • Cheree Teasley Mar 20, 2014
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    Maybe we should accept it as the new normal. Budget cuts were just that, they were cutting back on state spending. Now, we need to stick to that smaller spending. And, that national adverage is not that far away from what tey make now if you account for states with a higher cost of living paying larger wages. My husband does well here in NC, but if he did the same thing in NY or CA he's have a bigger salary... only we'd be paying an insane amount of our home and most of our overall costs would be much, much higher.

  • glarg Mar 19, 2014

    The "Bold proposal" is he same as the old proposal- give us more money in return for .... nothing. No raised grades. No increased graduation rate. No improved AP pass rate (poor btw).

  • Greg Boop Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Actually based on previous polling - over 70% of voters support the funding of public education of children within Wake County.

  • Greg Boop Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Has the 'Democratic control' bankrupted South Carolina? All the surrounding states pay approx. $10K more in teacher salaries. Many of these states have a lower cost of living than North Carolina.

    Due to this many of our best teachers are leaving North Carolina and going to neighboring states. Just like in the private sector, North Carolina is competing against other states for the best employees - and we are losing the battle due to low wages (ranked at 46th in the nation). If N.C. wants to retain our best teachers then we need to provide competitive compensation.

  • Kenny Dunn Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    So, once again, the people of Wake county don't want to actually fund the education of their own children? Stunning, not surprising, but stunning.

  • doser Mar 19, 2014

    Not one more penny. You have to see the comments from parents complaining they have to send their kid's to school for make up days. If schools are open the kids need to be there education is important for our entire society just not when it fits into a parents schedule or is a little inconvenient. I gladly pay my fair share of taxes and don't have kids in the WCPS I feel it is my civic duty for the good of everyone. We are providing an education for their children then they complain when their kids have to go to school. Make due with what you have like everyone else.

  • LetsBeFair Mar 19, 2014

    politicians have ruined the schools, nothing is stable, teachers complain ... and you want to throw money at the problems?

  • LetsBeFair Mar 19, 2014

    raise teacher salaries to the national average??? huh? we are not living in states where democratic control has bankrupted the cities blowing government salaries through the roof. We have a better cost of living here than the rest of the country.

  • Lamborghini Mercy Mar 19, 2014

    Wake County is going to run into some serious problems come 2016's property assessment.

  • Terry Watts Mar 19, 2014
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    Judging by the comments, I think its a little to late for that...