School board adopts $408 million budget

May. 12, 2014 @ 06:58 PM

The school board made quick work Monday of adopting a $408 million spending plan for the 2014-15 school year.

And it was even quicker in approving a $5.13 million, “one-time-money proposal” for the current fiscal year, about half of which would be spent on $500 bonuses for teachers and other school-based instructional personnel and $250 bonuses for bus drivers and all other district personnel except the superintendent and his executive leadership team.

Acting superintendent Hugh Osteen and the executive leadership team will receive no bonuses.

The money for the bonuses and other items in the “one-time-money proposal” will come from lapsed salaries and the school district’s fund balance.

School officials will deliver the proposed budget to the county by no later than Thursday so commissioners can begin to consider the school district’s requests as they begin to hammer out the county’s budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The $408 million spending plan adopted by the school board asks the county for $716,000 more in local dollars than the school district received this year to cover roughly 300 new students expected to enroll in Durham charter schools.

Last year, DPS gave more than $15 million in local money to charter schools.

If the commissioners approve the district’s plan, the local county appropriation would grow from $111.1 million to about $111.9 million.

DPS also expects to receive about $7.7 million from the quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011 for public education and $1.4 million in capital outlay, which would bring the total county appropriation to nearly $121 million.

School board members had debated whether to ask the county for any additional money after pledging late last year to not ask for any more as part of a board effort to rebuild trust with commissioners after the discovery of an extra $15 million in the school district’s unassigned fund balance. 

On Monday, board members said they thought asking for the extra money to cover increased charter school enrollment was the right thing to do.

They were given two options by finance administrators. The first did not ask commissionera for the extra $716,000 for charter school enrollment growth while the second did.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, who eventually supported Option 2, initially said she thought the board should adopt the Option 1 this year and focus on ensuring the district receives its full share of the quarter-cent sales tax, which generated an additional $629,000 for the school district over the previous year.

But because the school board had said it would request no additional funding, there have been discussions about whether the school district should receive the extra money generated by the sales tax.

 “I believe this year, maybe we should hold with our initial plan of Option 1, and be very sure that we have a strong emphasis on believing that we are due the full amount of our proportion of the quarter-cent sales tax and that’s what we should stand firmly behind this time and raise this issue asking the county to provide increased funding for the new charter school students going forward,” said Carter.

School board member Natalie Beyer said Carter’s proposal sounded reasonable, but agreed with others on the board that Option 2 was the fairest for Durham Public Schools’ students.   

“If we do that [approve the first option] we’re going into a second of third year where we’ve stayed flat and absorbed charter school growth in this community,” said Beyer. “I think the way we start to have that conversation is to go ahead and ask for it rather than have our students absorb it yet again.”

“Are we at all concerned that this will look like we’re backpedaling on our commitment to absorb any increase?” Carter asked.

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said the expense of increased enrollment in charter schools should not be shouldered by children enrolled in Durham Public Schools.

“I think that the voters clearly stated that the quarter-cents sales tax, they voted on that to go to public schools,” Forte-Brown said. “We’re asking for nothing more, no additional monies, just what we are due.”    

Carter said the school district, the county and charter schools must come together to develop a reliable funding formula that takes into account enrollment growth and increased growth in the county’s tax base.

Other highlights of the school board’s $408 million budget that calls for a 2 percent raise for all locally funded positions that is contingent on a two percent raise for state-funded positions.

The budget anticipates 600 additional students across the district, including those nearly 300 expected to enroll in charter schools, and calls for spending $3.6 million to support 60 additional teaching positions.

The budget reflects savings of $1.1 million the district hopes to realize through reducing travel, utility bills, contracted services, telephone lines and one central office position.