The way the Wake County government computed the need for increased local funding for the Wake County Public School System was questioned Tuesday by school staff and board members alike.
Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann presented his budget to the Board of Commissioners on Monday with $425.1 million in county tax dollars going to the Wake County Public Schools. That includes $16 million in new spending for the 2017-18 school year and $21 million in unspent funds from the current school year.
The School Board had requested a $45.2 million increase for the new school year, which pays for the opening of four new schools, the estimated increase in teacher and principal salaries, and the addition of about 2,200 new students.
School board members and school staff reacted strongly to the county manager’s proposed budget at the school board meeting on Tuesday.
WCPSS Finance Officer Mark Winters told school board members that the county manager’s proposed budget was calculated using an anticipated $21 million in unspent local funds which is from a March estimate of school system spending. That money has already been spent down, he said.
Winters also told the board this is not a “fund balance” amount that is available to be spent next year as had been reported by the media. It was a projection that was a difference between the budgeted amount of spending and the actual spending by a certain date.
“Those projections change every day,” Winters said, adding that the school system spends $5 million per day.
When it comes to the fund balance, a “rainy day” fund held by most public spending authorities that is carried from year to year, the school system has reduced its reserves over the past several years, Winters said.
The WCPSS fund balance amount is $13.8 million, and the school system has proposed using half of that, or $6.9 million, for next year’s budget, which is allowed by school board policy. The school system also returns all unspent county funds over a small threshold.
In addition to the discrepancy in available funds for next year, school board member Jim Martin raised the issue of the county’s proposed per-pupil expenditure. He suggested the county government’s budget miscalculated the per-pupil expenditure because it didn’t include the charter school students which are paid for with local funds.
“I hate to say this, but we’ve got gamesmanship going on here,” Martin said. “If you look at the county budget and you look at the per capitas in history, charters are left out of the budget as well.”
Martin said the WCPSS calculation for local spending per student includes the 2017-18 projection of 161,757 students for WCPSS and 13,349 students for charter schools while the county government’s calculation did not include the charter students.
Based on Martin’s math using the county government’s estimated per-pupil expenditure of $2,633 multiplied by the number of WCPSS and charter school students – a total of 175,106 students – would mean the local appropriation would be $461 million instead of the $425 million proposed in the county manager’s budget.
Martin also added that Hartmann’s budget presentation combined the $21 million in estimated unspent funds and $16 million in new spending amounted to $37 million in new spending. These numbers, Martin said, show that the county manager acknowledges the need to increase overall local spending by that amount.
“That suggests to me that the county believes there is a need for $37 million. The question is how do we pay for it?” Martin said. “I think they recognize our need.”
The county manager’s budget included a 1.45-cent increase in property taxes to bring the rate to 61.50 cents per $100 in property value to pay for new spending in many areas of the county budget in addition to the schools. The Board of Commissioners will have a public hearing to listen to community concerns on June 5 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The commissioners will also have a work session to discuss budget issues on June 12, and will make their final vote on the budget on June 19.