Wake County school board members had plenty to say and plentiful ground to make up Tuesday, the day after the Board of Commissioners provided less than half the new schools funding requested.
For board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler, the lowered amount of money—$21 million instead of $44 million—meant the schools would have a tough time providing all the services that today’s children may need. With financial pressure on human services, social work, law enforcement, and other government functions, schools have become the last hope for some marginalized children, Johnson-Hostler said.
“Every part of what I would consider necessary to have a thriving society is at risk,” she said between a work session and full school board meeting.
Five of seven commissioners voting Monday agreed with Wake County manager Jim Hartmann that the county would be adequately served by $1.26 million budget with a 1.45-cent property tax in crease, the fourth tax hike in four straight years.
A plan to add $10 million for counselors in the schools was among crucial operations that board members said would likely be lost. New themes for magnet schools, pay increases to make salaries competitive, and other planned enhancements could also face the ax.
Commissioners Jessica Holmes, an education law attorney, and Greg Ford, a former principal, cast votes in opposition Monday, saying the schools funding wasn’t enough.
“I am grateful that the two board members with a background in education voted against the budget,” school board vice-chairwoman Christine Kushner said.
Schools superintendent Jim Merrill said financial staff members were beginning to plan for operating and building schools in the budget year that starts July 1. Board members passed a interim funding mechanism Tuesday that will be amended when legislators complete the state’s 2018–19 budget, some details of which were presented Monday.
The annual struggle between Wake County’s governing boards arises from the legal arrangement under which the schools must ask the Board of Commissioners to approve their budget.
“I’m often disheartened that every year we’re back at the same place,” board member Keith Sutton said. “There should a position of the budget that we should not have to ask for every single year, that is tied to the growth in our county.”
Several board members criticized the commissioners’ stance that the school board should spend down some $21 million in leftover revenue from the current school year.
“I am discouraged that this climate of distrust continues,” said board member Kathy Hartenstine, adding that she is optimistic that the budget will be fully funded in time, once trust is established.
A welter of adjustments remain ahead as the system awaits a final state budget, as well as any federal budget provisions that might affect the county.
Board member Lindsay Mahaffey questioned the commissioners’ means of funding the additional $5 million that supplemented Hartmann’s original plan without requiring an additional tax increase. Along with an unexpected $1.5 million in sales tax revenue, the addition will use transfers from capital and debt service funds, the means to build and pay off school construction.
“How will that affect our plans going forward?” Mahaffey asked. “I represent Western Wake County, and we have tremendous growth there.”
After the budget discussion, school board members proceeded with other business, including the unanimous adoption of a memorandum of understanding concerning the role of school resource officers. Originally adopted in 2009, the document was to expire June 30. Board members and public speakers agreed that the MOU will need more work to clarify terms and expectations.