Wake County Schools superintendent outlines proposed budget for 2015-16

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The Wake County Public School System presented its $1.4 billion proposed operating budget to the Board of Education on Tuesday evening. (WTVD)

Wake County Commissioners said Wednesday they look forward to collaborating with the school district, following Superintendent Jim Merrill's release of his $1.4 billion budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

Meanwhile, critics of the budget proposal hope Wake County's newly-elected commissioners will look closely for any potential waste before putting the requested money down.

At Tuesday night's school board meeting, school officials said the budget puts an emphasis on improving classroom instruction and supporting teachers.

The budget proposal includes:

- $16 million as part of an effort to bring teacher salaries to the national average within five years

- $3.7 million to help pay for a new Elementary Support Model program designed to accelerate learning in 12 schools

- $598,000 to increase the use of Instructional Technology Facilitators who will support teachers as they better integrate technology into daily classroom lessons

- $670,000 for an innovative school redesign at Knightdale High School

- $236,000 for the magnet program expansions emphasizing global studies and language immersion

- $5.3 million to open three new schools: Abbotts Creek Elementary, Scotts Ridge Elementary, and Apex Friendship High

- $2.3 million for the expansion of Pre-K programs

- $1.8 million as part of the phasing in of additional extra-duty pay to academic and athletic coaches. Many of these coaches and mentors are still compensated on a pay scale approved in 1987.

Of that $1.4 billion budget, $389.8 million will be requested from the Wake County Commission; that's $48 million more than requested last year. The rest will come from state and federal funding.

"While I recognize the county faces many competing needs, I make this request without apology. It represents a backlog created by seven years of growth and a decrease in per pupil funding," said Superintendent Jim Merrill in a statement. "Our needs are now significant if the Wake County Public School System intends to regain its role as an undisputed leader in North Carolina and the nation."

Ron Margiotta, former Wake County School Board Chairman responded Wednesday.

"Quite frankly I think it's outrageous, 14 percent increase is just way out of line," he said. "And it's hard to believe that the superintendent really expects to get those dollars."

Margiotta believes the school district should be looking for inefficiencies and potential reductions. But this year, Merrill knows he's facing a new set of faces on the county commission, all democrats with education funding high on their list of priorities.

"We want to make sure that we work as collaboratively as we can with the school board, think about their needs and where they're coming from," Matt Calabria, Wake County Commissioner told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

Margiotta argues, money isn't always the answer to enriching education and retaining good teachers.

"It's a bureaucracy that needs to be reduced without a doubt," he said. "Dollars don't necessarily buy quality or buy performance."

While Calabria said he wants Wake County to be a competitive employer of top educators, this is only the beginning of the budget process and there are other services they'll need to fund.

"I think the bottom line is the budget is only increasing [by] $6 million. We're still continuing to grow. We're estimating 3,000 additional students next year. We have been growing and our operational budget has not kept up with growth," said Christine Kushner, Chair of the Wake County School Board.

The board must send its request to the Wake County Board of Commissioners by May 15 for an estimated adoption date of June 30. But between now and then the budget could go through some changes with input from the board, the public as well as what the county commission decides and funding from the state.

For example, this budget proposal is counting on the state budget providing funding for teaching assistants as it did last year. In the 2014-15 state budget, $24.8 million in nonrecurring funds was allotted for teaching assistants, $2.7 million of which went to Wake County. If during the legislative session this summer lawmakers don't decide to include that money in this year's budget, that $2.7 million would affect the school district's proposed budget.

In the weeks ahead, the Board of Education will review the proposed budget and consider possible changes. District leaders are urging people to attend next board on April 21 to voice their concerns and opinions on the proposed budget.

The proposed budget can be viewed by clicking here.

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