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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wake County Schools Want a Bunch More Money, and This Could Get Ugly

Posted by on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 9:19 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

In this week’s paper, I wrote some three thousand words on the Wake County Board of Commissioners’ brouhaha over the former Crooked Creek Golf Course and the coming elections and the prospect of big-monied PACs throwing their weight around and how this all links together. (Or, at least, I tried to do all of that. Whether I succeeded, I suppose, is up to the reader.) But the thing I keep circling back is this: the central issue of this year’s Democratic primaries—which are almost certain to be dispositive in terms of who sits on the board next year—is last year’s 5–2 budget vote and the fact that the county did not give the school board everything it asked for.
  • Crooked Creek works into this as a point of comparison, like this: “Oh, you couldn’t find $10 million for school counselors, but you could find $5 million for a park that the county staff recommended you vote against?” And that’s why it’s like to come up again and again over the next couple weeks; I learned yesterday that Public Policy Polling—big Dem donor Dean Debnam’s firm—was doing polling on Crooked Creek on behalf of Debnam’s PACs (Wake Citizens for Good Government, which just happens to share a treasurer with fellow Dem donor Ann Campbell’s newly formed Women Awake PAC, which I wrrote about in the story) the day after the Commissioners Jessica Holmes, Greg Ford, and James West sent an open letter blasting their colleagues for participating in a campaign event in Crooked Creek.
  • And now this: “Wake County taxpayers could face their fifth consecutive year of property tax hikes if school leaders get their way for a record $58.9 million increase in local funding this year. On Tuesday, interim Wake County schools Superintendent Del Burns said the district needs a 14 percent increase in local funding to maintain current service levels and to add more counselors, social workers and psychologists. He said the extra money is needed from the Wake County Board of Commissioners because the district is at a ‘financial crossroads.’”
  • “Burns' $1.7 billion proposed operating budget for the 2018-19 school year—which includes a request of $489.8 million from the county—now goes to the school board for review. … The previous record increase from the county was $44.6 million given in 2015. School board members acknowledged it won't be easy persuading commissioners to provide $58.9 million.”
  • That’s an understatement. Asked for a first-blush reaction, Wake County Commissioner John Burns replies: “All I've seen is a top-line number. I'll wait for the school board to weigh in through their process and then the [county] manager to propose his budget. But that's a great big number. Timed well, I'll add.”

WHAT IT MEANS: It is timed well, given how much of the Dem primaries revolve around the question of school funding. Now, the challengers, who are painting themselves as more pro-schools than the incumbents, can press their opponents to commit to the school board’s full funding. The incumbents can plausibly argue that it would be irresponsible to do so before the school board and county’s budget processes play out—which will happen after the election—but there will be political pressure on the incumbents to signal support for the schools now. And that, I suspect, is why you’re seeing such a giant request a few weeks before an election. Nothing is a coincidence.

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