First round of negotiations begin over Wake County school budget

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The extra $5 million the Wake County Public School System needs to fix one-third of it's ailing school bus fleet was on the table at tonight's joint session with Wake County commissioners. But, it was just a small piece of these negotiations.

"We've got growth issues, we've got inflation issues, we've got legislative impacts," said WCPSS School Board Chairman Jim Martin.

The commissioners and the school board met face to face for the first time to begin negotiating the Wake County school's budget for the 2019-2020 school year. It marked the start of the annual wrangle over how much more money the state's largest school system will need from county taxpayers.

"We're trying to lay out some of the foundational heavy lifts that we often talk about which can't be solved in one year," Martin said. "But how do we begin to address those over a multi-year plan?"

Wake County Commission Chair Jessica Holmes added, "We're here to listen to what their challenges are- and get a sneak peek into what might be in the superintendent's budget."

The school district did not reveal specific dollar figures Wednesday night. But last year, WCPSS requested an additional $58.9 million. The county ultimately approved an additional $45 million, which is $13 million less than the district wanted.

There are signs the school district will seek an additional funding boost this time around.

Social services remains a huge need. The school board wants more social workers, counselors and psychologists in the schools; not to mention a greater ability to attract and retain other staffers with competitive salaries.

"That goes everywhere from bus drivers, child nutrition workers to a teacher. Right now we are not competitive," Martin said.

The boards were not only discussing next year's budget. School board members have a more immediate need. They want $5 million immediately to start repairing school buses with failing engines and to fund transportation for special needs students.

"Finding funding is always a challenge, especially outside of the budget cycle," Holmes said. "So our first priority is making sure we understand the concerns and then find out how we can be the best partner we can be."

Holmes told the school board the earliest county commissioners could vote on the $5 million request would be the end of April.

WCPSS Superintendent Cathy Moore is set to officially unveil her schools budget on April 2.
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