Following less-than-hoped-for education funding in the state budget, the Durham County budget will give more money to Durham Public Schools, but not as much as advocates say is needed to ensure teaching positions aren't cut.
On Monday night, commissioners approved the $633.14 million budget, including $134 million for DPS, after commissioner and former school board member Heidi Carter tried unsuccessfully to get her colleagues to add another 0.15 cents to the property tax rate to help cover shortfalls in state education funding. The final budget calls for a 2.75-cent property tax rate increase.
"We're doing a lot, but are we able to do more?" Carter asked.
Funding for DPS in the 2017–18 budget represents an increase of just more than $6 million from the current fiscal year. The school system had asked for $140.41 million, including $1.5 million to support pre-K at the Whitted School. While the county did agree to fund the Whitted School classroom outside of the DPS budget, there's still about a $4.9 million gap between what the school system wanted and what it got.
"We don't have unlimited resources," said board chairwoman Wendy Jacobs. "And unless things change with redistricting and gerrymandering and our state legislature, we're going to be dealing with this year after year."
Originally, county manager Wendell Davis had proposed $132.7 million in funding for DPS, but the board decided to up that allotment after receiving hundreds of emails supporting an increase.
Nicholas Graber-Grace, with the Durham Association of Educators, says the additional money, along with savings from smaller-than-anticipated teachers raises, will "almost certainly" cover twenty-four teaching positions that were at risk. But a recent change to how academically gifted and ESL programs are funded will cost DPS about a $1 million, jeopardizing about fifteen positions.
Of the 2.75-cent property tax increase, one cent will go to DPS and 1.75 cents to the county's capital financing fund. Davis had originally proposed a three-cent property tax rate.
With the city of Durham raising property taxes by 1.79 cents, residents will be seeing one of the largest increases "in a long time," Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said. For a $180,000 home, the average for the area, that means annual bills will go from $2,341 to $2,424.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Insufficient Funds"