Wake Schools Officials Say Millions Still Needed in Current Funding; Commission Chair Rules Out Changes Outside Budget Cycle | News

Wake Schools Officials Say Millions Still Needed in Current Funding; Commission Chair Rules Out Changes Outside Budget Cycle

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Wake County Board of Education members are making clear that they expect millions more in schools funding from the Board of Commissioners, with details spelled out in an email from school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler to commission chairman Sig Hutchinson.

According to the email, leaders of both boards have agreed to continuing discussions on funding. However, Hutchinson said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview that  no changes would occur until next year's budget cycle. Commissioners are always willing to listen to the school board's concerns, he said.

"We stay in communication with our school board; we like our school board," Hutchinson says. "They continue to show their needs and we continue to listen, but it has to fit within the budget cycle."

Wake County's budget cycle begins in December and ends with the adoption of a document before a new fiscal year begins each July. Modifications can be made during the year.

The email, dated Sunday, refers to a recent meeting at county offices in which Johnson-Hostler listed several items that went unfunded during budget negotiations between the two governing panels. In addition to Johnson-Hostler and Hutchinson, the meeting described in the email involved school board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner and county commission vice chairman Matt Calabria.

"I believe we left the room with an understanding that we are all passionate about Wake County and our commitment can be better communicated between our boards and most importantly, the four of us have agreed to intentionally work together on communication and collaboration," Johnson-Hostler wrote.

"To that end, I want to make sure you clearly heard our request for you to review the adjustments of $13.9 million and consider a new local appropriation. Likewise I also heard your request and I have included a few points to further express the importance of our budget request to students and to teaching and learning."

During the budget process earlier this year, the school board asked for $45 million in new money to pay for items including counselors and social workers, improved salaries for extra-duty employees such as coaches and club advisors, and new magnet school themes. Commissioners on June 19 passed a budget that provided $21 million in new funding along with the suggestion that the schools spend $21 million in holdover funds.

"We've got needs in this county," Hutchinson says, specifically referring to a Monday work session on behavioral-health care that pointed to gaps in Wake County's efforts to treat citizens.  "We've got a budget process and this is not a 365-day budget process."

The budget passed in June required a 1.45-cent property tax increase. In partially funding the schools' request, commissioners and county manager Jim Hartmann cited the broad range of county functions and the accompanying need to pay for affordable housing, public safety, behavioral health care, and other areas.

In continuing work sessions, school board members have returned on several occasions to the idea that they should simply tell the Board of Commissioners that the funding for this school year doesn't meet the needs of the system's 162,000 students.

First on Johnson-Hostler's list of priorities in the email is a request to increase the number of school counselors and social workers, an item that represented about $10 million of the school board budget submitted to the county in May.

"It is invaluable to the success of all students to increase these professionals in our schools;" Johnson-Hostler wrote. "They provide home visits, support to families to find medical assistance (example: students who are unable to attend school due to immunizations, students who have chronic absences due to medical conditions and lack of medical assessment); counseling to students who have suffered trauma or loss both in and out of school.”

In the case of the sorts of racial incidents that plagued several Wake schools in the 2016–17 school year, students touched by the events should have access to on-site counseling as well as therapy, Johnson-Hostler wrote.

The list also includes request for funding for competitive salaries for support staff in hard-to-recruit positions such as bus drivers; an alternative middle school supplying interventions that would create a path to graduation for students with significant challenges; the compensation for extra-duty employees; and revised, more relevant magnet themes at four schools.

Update: A meeting at Caffe Luna among the schools and board commissioners, referenced in earlier versions of this story, took place in February.

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