Wake County Schools

Wake property taxes likely to go up to pay for teacher, school staff raises

Posted December 8, 2021 4:18 p.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2021 8:03 p.m. EST

— The decision to provide raises to every Wake County Public School System employee will likely require a property tax increase, officials said Wednesday.

The Wake County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday for the raises, which could be 40 percent or more for the lowest-paid workers.

Employees have been pressing the school board and the state for months – and even years – for raises after years of stagnant wages and frozen step increases on the state's salary schedule.

Cafeteria workers and bus drivers have each staged "sick outs" this fall to protest working conditions strained by staffing shortages – in part because of low pay – and, in the case of cafeteria workers, supply shortages.

School district officials say the raises, including a $15 per hour minimum wage and increased rates for substitute teachers, will cost about $60 million a year going forward.

The district plans to use $38.9 million in reserve funds to pay for the raises this school year. But after that, officials said, more county support – between $13 million to $22 million – will be needed to avoid having to cut other district expenses.

Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Sig Hutchinson said Wednesday that additional funding would likely come from a property tax increase. That could happen as early as next fall, he said.

"We're growing as a county, so we get some additional funds through growth, and if that’s not enough, then the commissioners have to think about a tax increase and what it would mean to the county and the citizens of Wake County," Hutchinson said.

Keith Poston, president of the nonprofit WakeEd Partnership, said any tax increase is a small price to pay to retain talented staff in local classrooms.

"If you’re going to have the great schools, with the right kind of staff and programs, it costs," Poston said.

Hutchinson said he knows people are already being squeezed by inflation and the effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But he noted that Wake County's tax rate of 60 cents per $100 valuation is lower than at least two-thirds of the counties in the state.

"Ultimately, we want to do what’s in the best interest of our kids, and keep our tax rates low," he said.

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