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Is Budget Standoff Brewing in Wake County?

Wake County School Superintendent Del Burns wants another $35 million for the 2008-09 operating budget. Some commissioners say that is too much.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County School Superintendent Del Burns wants another $35 million for the 2008-09 operating budget. The school system calls it adequate funding, but some county commissioners say it is too much.

“Anytime you ask for money, and you have a banker who does not believe in raising taxes or questions whether that is adequate, there may be a little contention,” Board of Education Chairwoman Rosa Gill said. “But I think if we can prove to them (county commissioners) that we need it, and that we are good stewards of the money, then we should receive it."

Commissioner Tony Gurley said the increase of nearly 12 percent from the county's contribution to the current budget is out of line with history.

“That's a little higher than in the past. I think over the last four of five years, we've averaged about a 9.5 to 10 percent increase in the school budget,” he said.

Gurley also noted that $6.5 million the school system received in the current year's budget should be returned. When the 2007-08 budget was prepared, the school system overestimated by 2,000 students and overstated the county's share of state-mandated teacher pay increases, he said.

“I think the taxpayers of Wake County deserve an accounting of the money. If the money is spent wisely, they've got $300 million. What's $6.5 million?” Gurley asked.

Gurley said he asked for the money back four months ago, but has yet to get a response. If nothing else, there should have been a "thank you," he said.

“How difficult would it be to say 'thank you' to the taxpayers of Wake County for giving you $6.5 million for students that didn't show up?" Gurley said. “I think it would go a long way toward reducing the contention between the two groups."

The school board will hold public hearings on the budget request before a final version is sent to county commissioners.

The additional $35 million would bring the county's part of the schools' operating budget to $335.7 million for 2008-09, which begins July 1.

The state supplies 61 percent of the school district's operating costs, the county 33 percent and the federal government 6 percent. That puts the total budget for the next year at about $1.02 billion.

The budget for the coming fiscal year would allocate $140 more in per-pupil spending, which Burns said was approximately a 6 percent boost.


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