Wake County school leader says budget ‘gamesmanship’ underway

Wake County school leaders meet on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Hyland/CBS North Carolina

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County school board members are standing by their funding request from the county and questioning some of the figures the county manager used as he recommended the schools receive less than the district’s leaders sought.

“I hate to say this, but we have gamesmanship going on here,” said board member Jim Martin.

The school board requested a $45.2 million increase in county funding. However, Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann recommended to commissioners Monday that the district receive a $16 million increase. He also urged the school board to use $21 million in unspent money from this year to help bridge the gap.

RELATED: Click for a budget document released by school leaders Tuesday  (Microsoft Word document)

During a school board work session Tuesday, administrators and board members questioned the county’s calculations and projections.

During his budget presentation, Hartmann noted the county would be giving the district $2,633 per student.

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However, school board member Martin pointed out the county didn’t factor in roughly 13,000 charter school students. He further argued if the county were actually contributing that amount per student, the funding would exceed what the school board actually requested.

In an email to reporters, Wake County spokeswoman Dara Demi noted, “We do not currently and have not in the past included charter school in our per-pupil funding calculations. We take this approach because we work jointly with the school district on projections for WCPSS student enrollment, and the county has no way to project enrollment for charter schools. However, even if you include charter schools in the per-pupil calculation for (fiscal year 2018), it would still be the highest in county history.”

Board members also questioned the projection that there will be $21 million remaining unspent this year. Administrators pointed out the board is already using about half its rainy-day fund of $13.8 million in next year’s budget.

Board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said the school district can’t make up the difference in funding and could resort to cuts.

She said, “That’s a hard line, and if it’s not more then, of course, we will do what we have done the last couple years, which we will start those conversations, what gets cut?”

Wake County Commissioner Greg Ford, a former school principal who was watching the work session online tweeted that he’d be asking county staff members for clarification on the discrepancies.

The proposed county budget includes a property tax increase, which Hartmann noted would increase the average homeowner’s bill by $39 annually. It would be the fourth consecutive year for a tax hike.

Commissioners are holding public hearings on the budget June 5 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Wake County Justice Center.

They’re expected to vote on the budget a couple weeks later.

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