School Board Approves Budget

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In a vote along partisan lines, the Wake County Board of Education Tuesday narrowly approved Superintendent Tony Tata’s proposed $1.2 billion budget.

What appeared to be something of a rubber stamp took an unexpected turn when Democrat-backed board member Anne McLaurin (District 5) offered an amendment to ask the county Board of Commissioners for more funding.

The proposed budget includes a $313.5 million lump sum appropriation request to the county, which means the board could allocate the money as it chooses.

Although the county’s total appropriation for the school system did not decline for the 2011-12 school year, growth in the number of students would result in an overall decline in per-pupil spending.

McLaurin’s amendment would have asked the county to maintain per-pupil funding at its current level.

“I think as the board of education we have a responsibility to request sufficient funds to educate children,” said McLaurin.

Conservative board member Debra Goldman (District 9), who has voted against the majority on partisan issues in the past, — including the majority’s move to create a neighborhood school system — wavered on her vote.

“I wish they could skip me,” she said. “I’m torn.”

In the end, Goldman was persuaded on logistical grounds. Chief Financial Officer David Neter pointed out the board’s May 15 deadline for presenting a budget to the County Commission. The board had little time to present the new appropriation request for feedback, determine where in the budget to spend the new money and have a new budget printed by the deadline, he said.

“As much as I’d like to ask for more money, I feel like we’ve asked the county commission several times at this point,” Goldman said. “I don’t see how we can do it in time.”

Board member Deborah Prickett (District 7) observed that many other county services have received cuts.

“I do recall the meeting with the county commissioners, and I was just very impressed with the way the county was able to keep our funding stable in the times that we’re going through,” she said. “Health and Human Services took a lot of cuts.”

“Even though we have all thought about the budget, this [amendment] seems last-minute, like you’re throwing this in out of desperation,” Prickett added. “This seems to be a very good budget for the times we’re working in.”

In her final remarks to the board majority before the vote, McLaurin referred to Superintendent Tata’s meeting with state legislators earlier that day to request that they vote for no more than a 5 percent cut in public education funding. The current budget proposal in the North Carolina House of Representatives features an 8.8 percent cut.

“We are perfectly willing to ask the state for more money after they have told us no, but we’re not willing to ask the county for more money,” said McLaurin. “Is that what you’re saying?”

The final vote was 4-3 along party lines. Board member Kevin Hill was not present.

The Wake County Public School System trails Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cumberland, Guillford and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools in per-pupil funding.

As of June 30, 2010, WCPSS spent $9,338 per student in operating and support costs.

Bonus for teachers

Every teacher in Wake County public schools will receive a onetime $500 bonus next year.

The measure was included in the superintendent’s budget proposal but voted on separately on Tuesday.

“I think we’re all in agreement that it’s a miniscule amount of money, but it’s certainly value added during difficult budget times,” said Board Chair Ron Margiotta.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting to mark Teacher Appreciation Week, Margiotta praised the district’s teachers.

“We commend teachers for their laser-like focus on student achievement,” he said.

The coming school year will be the third consecutive year in which Wake County teachers have received no salary increase.

Some year-round schools to go single-track

In a move designed to save money and increase efficiency, the board also approved on Tuesday a motion to shift five under-enrolled year-round elementary schools from four tracks to one track.

Alston Ridge, Highcroft, Lake Myra, Rand Road and Timber Drive will now move all students to Track 4.

District staff estimated that total savings from the change would amount to more than $400,000.

Students whose parents have already planned vacations during instructional days under the new schedule will not receive unexcused absences.

Teachers now on Tracks 1, 2 and 3 at the affected schools will receive pay during the month of July. Track 4 schools are off that month.

Board Advisory Councils

The board also voted to limit membership on board advisory councils to residents of or parents of children attending school in the Board Advisory Council’s district.

Each of the school system’s nine districts has its own BAC.

According to the WCPSS website, BACs are designed to “ensure a broad range of ideas and voices are heard within our school system and actively help craft recommendations, procedures, strategies and tactics that are adopted by system staff and the Board.”

The board must approve all candidates for BAC membership and can remove BAC members at any time.

Several speakers during the public comment period objected to the move.

“I don’t understand why you’re making it more difficult for parents to take part in the board advisor councils,” said Greg Flynn.

“We are a countywide system and we need to start thinking as a countywide system,” said Christine Kushner.

The board also struck a provision in the BAC policy that required board members to consult the Parent Teacher Association when determining BAC candidates.

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