House v. Senate: Budget Battle Set to Begin

At the Board of Education meeting this past Tuesday, Chief Finance Officer David Neter walked the school board through the implications of the proposed House and Senate budgets and calmly explained the ramifications of each for the Wake County Public School System.

Both the House and Senate budgets provide recurring funding for student growth across North Carolina’s schools.  And both approach funding for transportation in the same manner.  But that’s where the similarities end.

The substantial differences found between the two create major ramifications for WCPSS.

At the end of the presentation and all discussion, school board member Keith Sutton plainly stated, “We need the House budget.”

Indeed.  We certainly do.

Teaching Assistants:  The House budget provides $88.8 million recurring funding to maintain current positions.  The Senate budget not only does not provide this $88.8 million, but cuts an additional $58 million for 2015-16.  Statewide this equates to a total reduction of teaching assistants in 2015-16 is approximately 5,300 and for 2016-17 is 8,600.

For WCPSS, the Senate budget means a possible reduction of up to 500 teaching assistants for 2015-16.

School board member Tom Benton noted that, “Unless we take some of the funding that our county commissioners generously gave us, we’re looking at laying off 500 people between now and August.”

Drivers Education:  The House budget funds Drivers Education for 2015-2016 with $26.4 million in non-recurring funds and shifts funding for 2016-2017 and beyond to be covered by Civil Fines and Forfeitures.  The Senate budget provides no funding and requires school districts to provide training and include current expenses in their budgets.  It does allow school districts to charge a fee “in an amount not to exceed the actual costs of providing the course.”

Currently districts are allowed to charge $65 to students to cover a discrepancy between what state funds cover and any remaining cost.  Under the Senate budget, students in Wake would incur a fee of approximately $250 to take the course.

Teaching Staff: The House budget makes no change to current funding.  The Senate budget adds $80 million to decrease class sizes in Kindergarten through grade 3.

For WCPSS, the Senate budget provides approximately $8 million which represents about 145 teachers.

Superintendent Jim Merrill noted on Tuesday night that this “assumes we can find them.”  And school board member Bill Fletcher stated that it would require additional classrooms to place these teachers in schools where we are already overcrowded and need more space.

Textbooks and Digital Resources: The House budget adds $43.5 million, bringing textbook funding to $41.86 per student.  This is 62 percent of the pre-recession funding level of $67 per student.  The Senate budget adds $29 million.  This will raise the per student funding from the current $14.86 per student, but not as much as the House budget.

Teacher Compensation:  The House budget increases beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 to $35,000 per year.  Additionally, all teachers receive a 2 percent salary increase, including those at the top of the pay scale.  The Senate budget provides the same increase to beginning teacher and funds all step increases in the pay scales.  No other increases are included, including no increases to teachers at the top of the pay scale.

Non-Certified/Support Staff Compensation: The House budget provides a 2 percent salary increase.  The Senate budget provides no increase.

Mr. Neter pointed out that these employees, which include bus drivers, clerical staff, child nutrition workers, maintenance and operations, and custodians among others, have seen a 1.2 percent increase and a $500 increase since 2008.

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