It's a balancing act that doesn't get any easier from year to year: county school board members have to wait for local and state budgets to wrap up before they know how to complete their own.
Wake County Board of Education members meeting Tuesday heard schools financial chief Mark Winters go through a litany of changes and mandates by the state legislature that will have an effect on Wake schools, amounting to tens of millions of dollars.
"We look at our budget on a daily basis," Winters told the INDY
after the meeting.
Among the potential costs the school system is grappling with:
- More than $24 million to meet a state mandate for lower class sizes, less than the amount originally projected under a broader requirement
- $19 million for positions not funded, or vacancies that should be filled
- $1.2 million for pension spiking, described as a "substantial increase in compensation that results in unusually high liabilities to the retirement system."
On the revenue increase side, legislators are proposing:
- $2 million for hiring additional themed-magnet teachers and for magnet training, supplies, and fees
- $3.3 million to cover more children with special needs.
The Wake Board of Commissioners will vote June 19 on whether to grant the school board's request for an additional $45 million for the 2017–18 school year. Jim Hartmann, the county manager, recommends that the commissioners give the schools an extra $16 million and advise them to take $21 million in funds held over, a suggestion that the schools superintendent Jim Merrill and the school board have said is impractical.
It’s unclear when the General Assembly will produce a final budget.
Monday, the commissioners heard more than twenty people urge commissioners to approve the larger chunk of the school board's request that Hartmann has recommended. Funding Hartmann's budget would require a 1.45-cent property tax increase.
Julia Lee, chairwoman for WakeUp Wake County, made a pitch for $38 million in new revenue for the schools system.
"This increase would, first and foremost, provide necessary funding for growth," Lee said. "Second, this would enhance services in key areas in counseling and magnet programs. It would also help us continue to work for equitable pay for the people who serve our children and community so well."
Former school board member Susan Parry said Wake can afford to increase funding for the schools, bringing it more in line with other North Carolina counties, such as Orange.
"We may not always be in a position to compensate for shortfalls at the state level," Parry said.