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Wake commissioners wrestle with school budget unknowns

Wake County commissioners are getting a closer look at Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Merrill's budget proposal that includes a $56 million increase in county funding over last year.

Both the school board and county commission are crafting budgets without knowing how much money the school system will need to cover a state mandate to reduce class sizes.

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The Senate has yet to act on changes to the mandate that requires a reduction in K-3 class sizes. Merrill said the mandate would cost $26 million; he's asking the county to cover $13 million of that.

Commissioner Erv Portman said the mandate is the latest example of the state failing to fulfill its responsibility to pay for public education.



"We're asked to decide between letting schools go with unfunded needs or raising taxes to stay equal with where we were. That's a shell game. That's a shift. It's an unfunded mandate," Portman said.

PREVIOUS STORY: WAKE SCHOOLS TO ASK FOR 14 PERCENT FUNDING INCREASE

Wake County Board of Commission Chair Sig Hutchinson has told ABC11 if the county approved Merrill's budget proposal, which is a 14-percent increase over last year, it would mean homeowners pay 4 cents more per every $100 on their property tax bill.

Hutchinson said they're committed to the school system, "but we're also very interested in listening to the public," he said.

Commissioners are urging the WCPSS school board to talk with state lawmakers about ways the state plans to help pay for education.

"If there's going to be a shift from the state to local taxpayers, let's all talk about that and let's make sure that's clear," said Portman. "Because, otherwise, what ends up happening is it looks like a fight between the county commission and the school board when we're simply standing there saying, what do we do? Put our finger in the dyke? Take our finger out? Both are bad options."

Once the school board approved its budget, the county manager will make a recommendation to commissioners.

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