Orange County

Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Orange County schools seek $9.7M more in local money

Orange County’s school boards are asking for nearly $10 million more next year in local money to educate children and continue increasing teacher and staff pay.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools wants a 5.01-cent increase in the special district tax that Chapel Hill and Carrboro property owners pay to cover the district’s proposed $5.5 million increase.

The new school district tax, if the increase is approved, would be 25.85 cents per $100 in property value. That would generate a tax bill of $775.50 for the owner of a $300,000 property – a $150.30 increase over the current bill.

The Orange County Schools wants a $4.2 million increase.

The request gave him “sticker shock,” Commissioners Chairman Mark Dorosin said Tuesday night.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board member Andrew Davidson reminded him it’s a direct result of the state’s $262 per pupil funding cut since 2008-09. Davidson noted the ease with which commissioners and school board members were able to talk about the needs.

“When it comes to this forum, it’s so ripe for conflicts and distrust, and the fact that the meeting goes as smoothly as it does is a testament to leadership of the county commissioners,” Davidson said. “It makes it easier to handle the challenges that we face that are very difficult.”

Officials in both school districts said it’s a critical time for the county and for education. While the state continues to cut funding, it is increasing the amount that districts must pay for teachers, staff and educational supplies.

The state is expected to set a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and 3 percent for other employees, said Todd LoFrese, Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s assistant superintendent for support services. Retirement and health insurance payments also could rise, he said.

At the same time, more students are experiencing poverty, struggling with English as a Second Language, challenged as refugees and immigrants, and in need of gifted and exceptional classroom instruction, he said.

The state and federal governments are “ringing the death bells” on public schools, county school board Chairman Stephen Halkiotis said.

“In my opinion, the unfolding story of the deliberate, well thought-out attack on public schools is to bring us to our knees, and bring us to our knees financially, and then just cut the knees off,” Halkiotis said.

The commissioners will do their best, said Commissioner Mia Burroughs, a former city school board member. The public also has a critical role to play, Commissioner Mark Marcoplos said, noting the crowds that have asked the commissioners to make up state and federal cuts.

“I hope that we can communicate as we go along that the people who are very interested and passionate about this, that they need to get involved on the state and federal level, they need to get politically involved, because we can’t just be the catchall for these terrible policies that we continue to react to,” he said.

Here is a brief look at the requests:

Chapel Hill-Carrboro

Current local budget: $74.8 million

Proposed local budget: $79.4 million

Expected enrollment: 12,456 public students, 217 charter students

Proposed per student: $4,245.50 a year ($377.50 increase)

New costs: Includes restoring teacher assistants, media specialists and physical education teachers

Quote: “I look forward to the great relationships we’re going to have and times when we need go back and forth and discuss what we feel is the right direction, and I think all of that is healthy,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent Pam Baldwin said. “And as long as our goals are all the same, which is the best thing for children, we’ll end in the right place.”

Orange County

Current local budget: $30.8 million

Proposed local budget: $35 million

Expected enrollment: 7,455 public students, 711 charter students

Proposed per student: $4,285 ($417 increase)

Challenges: The district continues to watch state House Bill 13, which modifies class sizes in K-3 classrooms. The bill has passed the House and is being considered in the Senate. If passed, the county schools may have to hire 12 more teachers.

Quote: The county schools continue to wrestle with charter schools, which could add 192 students and need $2.7 million next year. Several charter school bills in the legislature also could have an effect.

“We have done some targeted efforts to reach out to charter school families, not only to get an understanding of why they’re choosing charter schools but also to make sure they’re aware of the choices and options that we have within our public school system,” Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

Orange County Manager Bonnie Hammersley will present the proposed county budget, including her recommended schools spending, to the commissioners May 2.