Wake County's school board and Board of Commissioners share responsibility for spending more than a billion taxpayer dollars every year. But they have a hard time agreeing on where the money should go, as witnessed by the battle over funding for this fiscal year that ended in June.
The purse-string-holders at the county commission, most notably, turned down the schools' request for $10 million for counselors and social workers to help marginalized students succeed. The commission did pass a five-cent tax increase that helped fund other Wake County Public Schools System goals.
During the past week, tensions flared again when commission chairman Sig Hutchinson criticized the school system for deciding that students would not take part in a statewide, eighteen-year-old study of tobacco use.
Hutchinson raised the topic again at the Monday work session that preceded his State of the County address.
"Tobacco use is on the rise," Hutchinson said. "Obviously, tobacco is the number one risk factor in preventable diseases."
Hutchinson said the loss of Wake County's data, representing one-tenth of North Carolina students, would endanger the quality of the long-running study.
School board members said last week that students were too often asked to take part in such surveys and would be better off concentrating on their studies.
In budget discussions on Monday, with no school board members present, several county commissioners—sounding a familiar theme—claimed that the schools routinely surprise commissioners with unexpected requests for funding. (In a recent joint meeting of both boards, school board member Jim Martin hotly disputed that notion.)
Commissioner Matt Calabria called for "a lot more inter-board communication."
"We're going to have to get comfortable, as a combination of boards, with making choices," he said.
His colleague Erv Portman had asked for Monday's meeting to advance his goal of establishing firm expectations of school spending for several years at a time. That could enable the boards to ask the public for one comprehensive tax increase instead of a series ofsmaller ones, Portman said.
School board members have noted that their budget is prone to uncertainty because they usually don't know while they're crafting it how much funding—and how many demands—may come their way from the General Assembly.