Wake County school board warns that new programs might not be funded

khui@newsobserver.comJune 13, 2014 

Brandon Estevez, Moriah Wilson, Jack Arnold, all 6, read Spanish books at Jeffreys Grove Elementary School in Raleigh. The expansion of language programs is being reconsidered in a WCPSS budget update.

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Wake County school leaders warned Thursday that potential state budget cuts and lack of support from county commissioners could cost the school system not only pay raises for employees but also new academic programs planned for the coming school year.

School board members said they’ll have to adopt an interim budget for the 2014-15 school year on Tuesday that doesn’t include $10.2 million in new items such as expanded pre-kindergarten programs, new foreign language programs and graduation coaches to help students at risk of dropping out. School leaders said they might not be able to keep those programs unless the Wake County Board of Commissioners fully funds the school board’s request for a $39.3 million increase.

School board members said they’d have to see after the state budget is adopted whether they can implement any of those new academic programs. But they painted a bleak outlook Thursday at a news conference.

“The legislature is systematically transferring state expenses to local county budgets,” school board member Bill Fletcher said. “The current expectation is that there’s at least $15 million of that practice that’s going to impact Wake County school district’s operating budget next year.

“That $15 million has to come from somewhere. The first $10 million is likely to come from the proposed expansion budget.”

The $39.3 million the school board wants from the county is split between $10.2 million for expanded programs and $29.1 million for a 3.5 percent pay raise for all school employees.

Commissioners are in support of providing the $10.2 million. But they’ve balked at the $29.1 million and are instead considering options such as using $3.75 million in excess revenues from liquor sales to give teachers a one-time pay bump.

Joe Bryan, vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the board is weighing the school board’s pay plan against how they’re already going to ask taxpayers for a 4.4-cent property tax rate increase to repay last fall’s $810 million school construction bond issue.

He noted how it’s coming at the same time that Raleigh has approved a 2.12-cent property tax rate increase.

“That’s a large tax increase we’re asking of the community,” Bryan said.

The county’s plan, according to school leaders, would provide an average teacher raise of $247 per year. The 3.5 percent raise sought by the school board would give beginning teachers $1,231 more per year, with larger amounts for more experienced teachers.

While it’s not as much as what the school board wants, Bryan said the county’s plan combined with the pay raises expected from the state will help teachers financially.

School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said $247 more per year “is not a long-term solution for what we need to address teacher salaries.”

Kushner also raised concerns that the county’s plan only covers teachers, saying support staff such as teacher assistants, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers also deserve raises.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt their new budget Monday.

“We feel it’s important for us to make clear to the community that we are facing a lot of stresses in our budget, that we are looking at every alternative that we have,” Kushner said.

“We want to make sure that we let our state, local and community leaders know that our school system is underfunded,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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