In a preview of Wake County's 2018 debate-to-be over county and schools funding, county commissioners got a lesson in local teacher salaries, per-pupil spending and other figures compared to what's allocated in systems around the state and nation.
Meeting in a work session after their regular Tuesday meeting, the seven-member board heard a string of numbers from their financial staff, sometimes in statistics that seemed baffling at first.
Photograph by Thomas Goldsmith
Wake County Commission Chair Jessica Holmes, left, and Vice Chair Sig Hutchinson listen as county financial specialist present data on Wake schools spending compared to other districts across the state.
For instance, Wake County is 98th in the state in per-pupil spending, but third among North Carolina's large school districts. Among other things, that number reflects the greater economies of scale possible in larger system, commissioners said.
In another example, some of the state's smallest districts had higher graduation rates than Wake, a number that Board Chair Jessica Holmes said she could explain.
"I'm from Pender County and people graduate high school there not knowing how to read," Holmes said.
The goal was to prepare for a Jan. 27 Board of Commissioners retreat, and to hone their response to a proposed budget that the school board will send to commissioners in the spring.
Commissioners have to adopt the school board's budget, or modify it, by June 30. Members of both boards have pledged greater cooperation this year to avoid the battles that caused disruptions as recently as last year.
Among the possible templates for spending presented by schools management and budget analysts Michelle Venditto and Michael James were using the per-pupil spending average of the Top 10 state school systems, the per-pupil figure for the top four large systems, the median per-pupil spending of all North Carolina school systems, and the top-funded systems based on local contributions.
The potential taxpayer cost, none of which the budget analysts specifically endorsed, ranged from 96 cents per $100 of assessed value, based on the per-pupil spending average of the ten top-spending systems in the state, to a 7 cent increase based on ten top-spending systems per pupil.
The data reflected wide variations among the counties, and strong achievement results from the Wake system, its state ranking in per-pupil spending notwithstanding.
"I looked through all this stuff and my conclusion was, our school system does a dang good job," Commissioner John Burns said.