It all comes down to a balancing act for Wake County Commissioners. The superintendent wants tens of millions of dollars for teacher pay raises, but the county says it has other needs to consider, and handing over the full amount would mean raising taxes for homeowners.
A unanimous vote by Wake County School Board members Tuesday would give teachers a 3.5-percent pay raise, their first in five years.
"This is a first step at filling a hole. I don't think anyone can objectively look at this and call it a raise," said Dr. Jim Martin, a Wake County School Board member.
The superintendent is asking the county for an extra $39 million, most of which would pay for the salary increases. However, Wake County Commission Chair Joe Bryan says even if they could foot the entire bill, the burden would fall on taxpayers.
"It would mean an additional 3-cent tax increase, and that's on top of the 4.5-cent tax increase with the school bond issue that was voted on. So the public would be looking at a 7.5-cent total tax increase or $200 per homeowner here in Wake County on average," Bryan said.
Wake County Schools gets about a third of its funding from the county. The state picks up the bulk of the budget with most of the money going toward teacher salaries. Bryan says the county already gives teachers an average supplement of about $6,200, one of the largest in the state. He says fair teacher pay is the state's responsibility.
"We cannot afford to backfill for every single item that the state government or federal government is not funding at an appropriate level. We'll do the best we can," Bryan said.
Yet, school leaders say the teacher pay issue should be a priority for the state and the county, even if it means another tax increase.
"Are we willing to commit to our future? Or are we going to look for some kind of a magical cop-out that doesn't exist and that will put us at risk for years to come," Martin said.
The superintendent's request is part of a plan to raise the county's average teacher salary of $45,000 to the national average of $56,000 by 2020. To do that, would require an addition $130 million from the county.
Commissioners will vote on a final budget in June.