Wake County Schools

Wake school board member says state unfairly shifting costs to counties

Posted July 11, 2018 7:11 p.m. EDT

— As Wake County Public School System officials hammer out details of the budget for the upcoming year, one school board member is crying foul over increased pension costs the district has to include.

The school board has to cut its budget after the Wake County Board of Commissioners provided only $45 million of the extra $59 million district officials requested to fund schools in 2018-19. The cuts mean fewer support teachers, fewer school counselors, a negligible local raise for teachers and even higher costs for student parking.

But board member Bill Fletcher said Wednesday that the cuts don't have to be that deep. For years, he said, lawmakers have been shifting costs the state should be covering to the counties.

This year, for example, the school district ended up having to pay $10 million more than expected for state employee retirement benefits.

"When we look at the fact that there's $120 million going out the door to pay for state – what should be state expenses – my goodness, look what would that do in our classrooms for Wake County," Fletcher said.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the chief budget writer in the state House, said the state had to increase pension fund contributions to shore up the fund after years of soft returns. Everyone's feeling the pain, he said.

"We're picking up our share, and the local counties are going to have to pick up their share for employees and staff that they fund," Dollar said.

Legislators have increased net education funding every year for several years, he added.

"The state is providing more to the counties," Dollar said, "whether it's in terms of school construction funds or more in terms of teacher pay or other resources."

But Fletcher accused lawmakers of being quick to hold news conferences on teacher pay but not to help counties fully fund their schools. Counties have no way to cover the difference except to raise property taxes, he said.

"If the Republicans are going to say, 'We're going to reduce taxes at the state because that's a good thing to do,' but we're going to require the counties to increase taxes to pay for it, that's not right," said Fletcher, who's a registered Republican.