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Decision On Wake County School Funding Nears

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RALEIGH — By Thursday, Wake County schools will know how much the county thinks it should spend on the budget.

The school board believes the community supports quality schools and quality teachers and hopes it will support a tax increase to pay for it. The county commission seems less sold on the idea of giving all the extra money it has to the schools.

At the last meeting before county commissioners got to see their budget proposal, they shared a moment of lunchtime harmony with the school board. It may be short lived.

"Of course, everybody in the budget is not going to get everything that they do want," says County Commission Chairman Michael Weeks.

The school system wants money to raise teacher pay, recruit more teachers, and help struggling students. The county has an extra $30 million to hand out this year for all county services--like the sheriff's department and the library. The school system, however, wants all of it.

"That's been a contentious process with the school system because we've asked them to identify their needs [and] tell us what it's going to cost and sell it to the public," adds Weeks.

The school system says what they want to dowillcost 30 million dollars in each of the next three years. So, if the county cannot afford to give the whole surplus to the school system, school leaders say a 5-cent tax increase would cover the difference.

"Reaching this goal will require more funds," says Dick Henderson, Chamber of Commerce spokesman.

The Chamber of Commerce is among community groups that supports the tax hike.

We took that action after concluding that study after study has demonstrated that the public schools are run efficiently and with integrity," Henderson says.

Last year's capital bond approval won with a no new taxes pledge, so the schools request rankles some taxpayers. Supporters say it should not.

"The no-tax increase pledge was limited to financing and repayment of the bonds only," says Jim Talton, Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

That leaves school arts and athletics among items the superintendent may cut if the schools do not get the money for the operating budget.

"We had to let the community know everything was game. But you have to have a quality teacher in the classroom. You can't cut teacher compensation," says school board member Beverley Clark

The budget is released tomorrow. WRAL will be there to tell you whether school leaders reached for champagne in a successful toast or or the scissors to make those painful cuts.


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