City schools seek full funding, would spare AIG cuts

jalexander@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board voted unanimously Thursday night to ask the county for the full $3.8 million in extra money it says it needs for the coming school year.

The board had previously discussed asking for $2.9 million and cutting nearly $1 million, much of it from Academically or Intellectually Gifted instruction, from its proposed spending plan.

The total budget is $135 million. The $3.8 million shortfall comes from a number of expected and unexpected increases. For example, there will be increases in health insurance, retirement, and new teacher pay, along with the Read to Achieve Summer Reading program, which the district predicts will cost $1.9 million.

Board chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford and vice chairwoman Mia Burroughs don’t think the county will grant the full request. Barring other cuts in county spending, the $3.8 million would require a county tax-rate increase of more than 3 cents per $100 of property value.

Bedford said, since she has lived in Chapel Hill, the tax rate has never risen more than 2 cents in a single year.

Orange County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee said schools are the commissioners’ top priority, but added the county will have to consider Orange County Schools’ budget request in deciding how much money the city schools get.

Cuts still possible

Making the $909,000 in cuts that Superintendent Tom Forcella previously proposed remain a possibility.

The cuts, which would mostly affect Academically or Intellectually Gifted teachers, were met with negative reaction from parents. The staff came back and Forcella assured parents, that if cuts needed to be made, they would be spread out and not affect one particular area.

Board member Andrew Davidson recommended at that meeting that the board request the full amount of $3.8 million, but other board members said they wanted to show the county commissioners they were trying to work with them by identifying cuts.

“We have to have some form of realism,” Burroughs repeated Thursday.

“I think $2.9 million is incredibly optimistic,” Bedford added.

But board member Mike Kelley said making $909,000 in cuts could fundamentally change the school system’s long-range plan and that the board needed to let the commissioners know that.

Davidson agreed.

“The funding number that we came up with was not a negotiated number, it was not a pie-in-the-sky number, it was a number that represented real pain,” Davidson said. “So when we come to the county commissioners to fully fund our schools, we’re asking them in good faith, (and showing) that we are making tough choices and that we are being responsible with our requests. So in light of that, I think it makes sense to ask for the full funding amount.”

“The realism side is that we do need to prepare for cuts,” Davidson continued. “ And we need to prepare for multiple rounds of cuts.”

Bedford recommended parents tell the commissioners they are willing to pay more in taxes in order to better their children’s education.

 

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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