Wake school leaders in 'hard spot' as budget negotiations begin

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- Budget crunchers at the Wake County Office Building and their counterparts at Wake School headquarters have been buried in these numbers for weeks.

Monday night at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, county leaders sat face to face with school board members to hear the district's personal pitch for more taxpayer dollars.

"I think we have to keep reminding people we are in a hard spot," said Wake County School Board Chair Monika Johnson-Hostler.

In this annual joint session of two of the county's most powerful boards, the school district laid out projections for the next budget year - numbers that will force commissioners to decide whether to raise property taxes to fund the district's needs for growth.

"One thing we have to be cognizant of as a board of commissioners is raising taxes and how much taxpayers can bear," said Wake County Commission Chair Jessica Holmes.

This time last year, the district asked the county for $45.2 million. But commissioners handed over less than half that - leaving Wake schools with a $24.2 million budget gap to fill.

Monday's meeting was the district's chance to assure the county, they can't afford to go without.

"We are strategically saying, here's what we can do inside of our buildings, here's how we can maximize space, here's how we can maximize teachers," Johnson-Hostler said. "But, we're also very clear in long term, we'll need more space."

More space and more money, not only because the county's growth but to keep up with state mandates reducing K-3 class sizes.

Last month, the legislature voted to delay Republican-backed rules reducing class sizes to 1 teacher for every 17 students.

Districts now have until 20-21 until the new rules kick in. But the pressure is still on to figure out how to pay for all the new teachers and classrooms it will cost to comply.

"Everyone wants smaller class sizes, but the General Assembly fixed a problem that didn't really exist," said Holmes, a Democrat. "And now (the General Assembly's) fix doesn't solve a problem that they created."

As the two sides crunched the numbers, Monday night - Wake taxpayers now await the bill.
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