Education

Durham County trims property-tax increase. What you'll pay, and what schools will get

These Durham educators lobbied county commissioners for money to pay for community schools advisers during a June 11 public hearing. Their advocacy work paid off Monday, June 25, when commissioners approved a $644 million spending plan that included money for school advisers and Durham Public Schools' full request for $5 million in "new money" for the 2018-19 school year.
These Durham educators lobbied county commissioners for money to pay for community schools advisers during a June 11 public hearing. Their advocacy work paid off Monday, June 25, when commissioners approved a $644 million spending plan that included money for school advisers and Durham Public Schools' full request for $5 million in "new money" for the 2018-19 school year.

The county tax rate will increase by one-cent and Durham Public Schools will receive all of the nearly $5 million in "new money" it requested as part of a $644 million county spending plan approved Monday.

County Manager Wendell Davis had recommended a tax-rate increase of 1.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value, but the county was able to lower that to one cent by phasing in employee pay raises recommended in a county compensation study.

"The manager's budget recommended that we implement [county pay increases] all at once, and that was a very expensive item," said County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs. "We actually just got the study today, so we felt like we didn't have enough information to move forward with everything."

Jacobs said the county will begin with increases for county law enforcement officers because staff has already conducted its own study around pay issues in the Sheriff's Office and has "concrete information" to address inequities.

She said the lower tax rate also reflects "a bit more optimistic" revenue projections.

The new county tax rate is 77.79 cents per $100 of property valuation. That means if you own a $300,000 house, for example, you will pay $2,333.70 in county property tax next year. City residents pay additional city property taxes.

Money for schools

The county's budget included full funding for DPS' "new money" request despite Davis' recommendation that the school district receive only $3 million of the $5 million Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said he needed.

Davis, who did not attend Monday's meeting, found it difficult to recommend the full amount because DPS is losing students. He had said he could not support the $5 million in "new money" when "the number of students in Durham Public Schools has decreased the last two years."

Based on enrollment projections for next school years, DPS will lose 231 students next year while area charter school enrollment will grow by 300.

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DPS, which will receive more than $138 million in local funding, will spend the extra $5 million on moving the district's custodial program in house, growth in charter school enrollment, salary and benefit increases.

The budget also includes about $120,000 to pay for two community school advisers advocates of the community school model requested at a public hearing on the budget earlier this month.

DPS has already agreed to pay for advisers at Club Boulevard and Lakewood Elementary Schools as part of a pilot program next school year.

Advocates want to expand the program to include Southwest, E.K. Powe and Hope Valley elementary schools, and have said they plan to ask the city of Durham and Duke University to pay for one of them, for a total of five.

Millicent Rogers, a Hope Valley Elementary School parent, said community schools are a response to charter schools.

"We need to support the whole child," Rogers said. "Community schools help take care of attendance issues, food insecurities, medical and mental health needs."

The budget also includes an additional $2.2 million for expansion of pre-K services, as part of a county initiative to bring quality early childhood education to Durham Children. The increase will bring the total amount of available pre-K funding to $3.66 million, the equivalent of one cent of property tax. The money will support 13 new classrooms as well as the conversion of 25 existing classrooms.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645
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