Is it the responsibility of Wake County school board members to ask for how much money they think they need or how much they think they can get?
As noted in today's article, that represented the split among Republican and Democratic board members when voting on the school budget proposal on Tuesday. Democrats on the board argued they need to ask for at least the same amount in local per-pupil funding as last year, even if it means asking for more money from the county commissioners.
"While I think the superintendent's budget is a very good one that has some very innovative ideas that protects classrooms and is overall a very good budget, I do think that we have a responsibility as a board to seek more funding, particularly given that we're in the third year of flat funding," said Democratic board member Keith Sutton.
At issue is that Superintendent Tony Tata was asking commissioners for $313.5 million, the same amount that's been given the past two years. While it's not an overall cut, it is a per-pupil cut.
In this current fiscal year, that $313.5 million means $2,108 per student. With Wake projecting 3,759 more students in the coming fiscal year, that $313.5 million translates into $2,056 per student.
The budget was brought up by several speakers during public comment.
Anne Sherron said the "buck starts" with the school board because commissioners won't give the extra money if they're not asked.
"Ask for the money so parents can identify those elected officials that are not pro-public education from the wallet," Sherron said.
Jim Martin asked the board to ask for enough from the county to maintain per-pupil funding.
During the budget discussion, Anne McLaurin said it was her responsibility to ask that commissioners at least maintain the current per-pupil funding level. While no amount was brought up during the meeting, it would take a $7.9 million increase to keep it at $2,108 per student.
GOP school board vice chairwoman Debra Goldman asked if it would be possible to adopt the budget proposal as is and ask for more money anyway. She also asked about the May 15 deadline for submitting a budget proposal to the county.
GOP school board member Chris Malone asked Chief Business Officer David Neter what he knew about the state of county revenues. Neter said that's he's not an expert on it but said the county is under budge pressure as well.
McLaurin proposed discussing the budget revision on May 10 so they could still get the budget to the commissioners by May 15.
Neter told board members that they if they were planning on asking for the extra money then they should readjust the budget to say how it would be used. He said staff would need to work quickly to determine how to allocate that money before the May 15 deadline.
GOP school board member John Tedesco noted that "the county is in tight times." While "it's not optimal," he said the fact that they've received the same amount the previous two years is much better than the cuts the county has made elsewhere in their budget.
"They’re trying to work with us much more cooperatively," Tedesco said of the commissioners. "They understand the challenges we're facing. If they had the additional resources at this time, they’d try to work with us in light of that."
GOP school board member Deborah Prickett said McLaurin's proposal "seems to kind of be just a last-minute sort of we'll throw this out there in desperation."
"It’s a very good budget for the times we’re working in," Prickett said as she added that she hoped "the state will come through for us" with more funding.
But Sutton said they need to make sure that county funding stays current with growth. He said asking the state for more funding "doesn't take commissioners off the hook" for giving more money.
"We need to step up to our responsibility as a board to provide necessary funding for our students in Wake County," Sutton said.
Goldman said that while she would like to ask for more money "it’s just time and effort that will not be rewarded."
Noting how much less school funding has been cut than other areas by commissioners, Goldman said "they have done more for us for education for our dollars to keep them where they are than they've been able to do anywhere else.
Goldman said they need to move forward with the budget and would be "better served" to appeal to state legislators for more funding.
Tedesco said he'd encourage working with commissioners to set up in the future a funding formula based on a per-pupil amount. He also said he felt that approach would best be done with a purpose and function budget.
McLaurin challenged her colleagues to answer this one question:
"We are perfectly willing to ask the state for more money after they've told us that we can't have any but we're not willing to ask our county commissioners to keep us at the funding level where we ought to be," McLaurin said. "Is that what you're saying?"
Sutton responded to Prickett's earlier comment about it being last-minute by noting how he had brought up a per-pupil funding formula idea last year.
Goldman questioned their ability to change the budget in the next 12 days. Sutton said that if they had the wherewithal and the commitment they could do so in that time period.
The vote went 4-3 with the Republicans voting no and the Democrats voting yes for McLaurin's budget amendment.
“I’m really torn,” Goldman said. “But I have to vote no.”
When it came time to vote on the whole budget, the vote went 5-2 when Democrat Carolyn Morrison voted yes. She said she was doing so because they have to have a budget.
School board chairman Ron Margiotta applauded Morrison for "being responsible," which prompted Sutton to ask if he was being considered irresponsible because of his no vote.
The budget was adopted without the use of purpose and function requested by commissioners.