Wake schools push for more county funding
Posted May 31, 2016
Cary, N.C. — Faced with a budget shortfall of at least $11.8 million for the 2016-17 school year, the Wake County Board of Education pushed Monday for more money from the county and put off discussion of possible budget cuts.
The school board in March requested an extra $35.7 million from the county to fund school operations during the coming year, but Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann has recommended including only $23.9 million of that in the county budget, noting that the county last year increased support for the school district by a record $44.6 million.
That leaves the district $11.8 million short, and officials predicted that gap will grow as state lawmakers hammer out a final budget. The budget the House approved two weeks ago would add $5 million to the shortfall, officials said, and the Senate is expected to work on its spending plan this week.
During an emergency school board meeting Tuesday, district administrators outlined some possible cuts to balance the budget:
- Reduced services, which could mean larger class sizes or cuts to school cleaning contracts or school supplies budgets.
- Increased fees for student parking or athletic participation.
- Delaying projects, such as a rollout of technology devices or performance pay for teachers.
School board members said they haven't given up yet on increasing revenue, and they said they plan to appeal to the Wake County Board of Commissioners to increase property taxes more than the 1.35 cents per $100 valuation that Hartmann proposed to help fund the district's budget.
"We need at least that extra penny just to keep our head above water," school board member Jim Martin said.
Enrollment in Wake County schools has increased by 14 percent since 2008, school board members noted, while state funding is down 2 percent per student during that span.
"(Lawmakers) seem to set their goal as providing for, at best, a mediocre public school system instead of a quality school system," school board Chairman Tom Benton said. "Wake County has made it clear that that is not acceptable to the citizens of Wake County, which means that our commissioners are on the hook to fill on those gaps, which are becoming increasingly large."
Several county commissioners declined to say whether they would support a larger property tax increase for schools, saying only that they're in the process of getting public feedback on the county budget before next Monday's public hearings.
Cutting new programs, such as the planned Flex Academy to offer an alternative class schedule to some students, would only eliminate $3.7 million from the district's budget, Benton said. So, the school board could face some tough decisions if county commissioners don't come through with additional money or the state budget creates an even wider shortfall at the district level.