Wake County commissioners—facing pressure to fill in a public school funding shortfall they blame on state lawmakers—approved a $5 million increase to the county manager’s proposed school budget Monday.
The increase, taken from the county’s sales tax revenues and school capital funds, brings the county’s total public school funding increase to about $21 million in the coming fiscal year, although it still falls significantly short of the $45 million requested by the leaders of North Carolina’s largest school system.
The board majority indicated Monday they wanted to limit the property tax increases required in the county budget, which will raise the county rate by about 1.5 cents per $100 of property valuation. It marks the fourth consecutive year that the county has raised property tax rates.
“It must be the right number because nobody’s too happy,” said board Chairman Sig Hutchinson, who joined board members Matt Calabria, Erv Portman, James West and John Burns to approve the school funding increase.
Board members Jessica Holmes and Greg Ford, seeking additional cash for the school system, voted against the $5 million increase.
Monday’s vote wrapped an unusually bitter divide on the Democrat-controlled board, which by and large blamed state lawmakers for the school district’s funding crisis.
Remarkably, some Wake residents urged commissioners to raise their taxes to fund the K-12 spending request, although others advocated for the county to hold the line on property taxes.
“This board and the school board are doing everything they can to fill in the breach, but we cannot continue to blame each each for problems caused by another body,” said Burns. “It’s time for Jones Street to pay attention for these children. I’m tired of continuously being told to do more with less.”
Opponents of Monday’s vote, meanwhile, criticized the county commission’s vote, noting a portion of the $5 million increase is drawn from the school system’s capital construction funding.
Meanwhile, members expressed continued frustration with state lawmakers and the state law itself, with Commissioner Portman advocating for school districts to be able to levy their own taxes to raise K-12 funds.
“I believe we elect people to run our schools,” said Portman. “They have a very difficult job. They should be able to tax their citizens.”