Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill on Tuesday asked county commissioners for a hefty funding hike for the budget year that starts July 1, citing the need to build schools and to support teachers, staff, magnet school programs, and equity efforts. Information on the additional $56 million, as well as this year’s budget, is available at the school system’s website and was presented at the Board of Education’s regular meeting Tuesday.
The proposed increase, which the system had to develop as state legislators continue to mull their funding of local schools, would bring the county contribution to $466.5 million and represent nearly a fourteen percent increase over the $409.9 million provided in the current year’s spending plan. The overall schools operating budget would increase four percent to $1.56 billion from local, state and federal sources.
“We’re doing this without knowing the largest source of funding,” said Mark Winters, the system’s finance director.
State contributions during the current budget year amounted to $885 million and Merrill is projecting an increase from that source to $922 million. Among the routine and new items is a line item that acknowledges recent racially fueled conflict in the county’s schools.
“Chief in expansion items is $10 million for instructional support positions for the schools, such as counselors and social workers, which is year one of a multi-year plan to expand these resources,” Merrill told board members. “This addition recognizes the school system’s need to respond to the increasing social and emotional challenges that our school populations represent. In an effort to more rapidly advance the work of equity in our school system, there is a need to expand the Office of Equity Affairs with a request of $488,000.”
The board can accept or modify Merrill’s proposal, but must present its budget to county commissioners by May 15. Commissioners have to adopt a balanced county budget by July 1.
Among highlights of the proposed budget are:
• $9.9 million to add counselors and social workers that will bring Wake in line with national guidelines for such personnel in relation to student body size;
• $7.2 million to operate four new schools — Hortons Creek Elementary, Rogers Lane Elementary, River Bend Middle and North Wake College and Career Academy – and for school renovations;
• $7.1 million to match what is projected to be a three percent state pay hike to locally funded employees;
• $2.5 million for extra pay for academic and athletic coaches; and
• $2 million to develop new themes for magnet schools that are designed to increase specialty offerings and increase school diversity.
The system also budgeted $13 million to meet possible operating costs caused by a legislative mandate to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. The demand for smaller classes threatens money that schools have used for art, physical education and music classes.
“A request of $13 million is included in the superintendent’s proposed budget to reduce the risk to teachers in those areas,” Merrill said. “The school system must wait for a final decision from the General Assembly before this portion of the budget can be settled.”