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Wake leaders vote down referendum to help fund teacher pay

The Wake County Board of Commissioners decided Monday not to ask voters to approve a one-quarter cent sales tax that would have been earmarked for teacher pay.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-2 against a proposed referendum on a one-quarter cent sales-tax increase that would help pay teacher salaries.

Had it been approved, voters on Nov. 4 would have been asked to approve the measure, which would earmark revenue from the tax increase to raise pay for teachers and hourly paid employees of the Wake County Public School System.

The county estimates that the sales-tax increase could bring in an additional $27 million in revenue.

Leaders in Mecklenburg and Guilford counties have already approved similar referendums.

But Wake County commissioners who voted against the referendum said they were reluctant to put the measure on the ballot after a referendum last year in which voters approved an $810 million school construction bond.

In addition, the county's annual budget, approved in June, also includes a 4.4-cent property tax rate increase to help pay for school construction and allots liquor tax money to fund teacher raises.

They reminded other commissioners that, although the county pays teacher supplements, it's the state's responsibility to fund teachers' base pay.

Commissioner Paul Coble said he was also concerned that the money would essentially go to the school system without any parameters on how to spend it.

"The other thing that bothers me in the resolution is we're going to give 100 percent of the proceeds to the school system, no strings attached, no plan," he said. "It doesn't say they have to spend it on teacher pay. All it really says is, 'We're going to give that money to the school system.'"

Coble said he wants the school system to hand over its reserve fund to help increase the teacher supplement. Wake County school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner, however, said Monday that the majority of that funding is already allocated.

She said she's disappointed that commissioners rejected the referendum but said both boards will continue to work together.

The school system says it's losing at an unacceptable rate teachers to higher-paying jobs in other states at an unacceptable rate.

"Our teachers have been working in the classroom with our children doing more and more with less and less," Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, who voted in favor of the referendum, said.

Commissioner James West also voted for the measure.

"We've got to take care of Wake County, and we are putting ourselves in a non-competitive position," he said.


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