Overflow crowd asks Orange County to spend more on schools

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2014 

— The crowd at the county commissioners’ second budget hearing Thursday filled the Southern Human Services Center and spilled into the parking lot.

In all, roughly 300 people came to ask the Orange County Board of Commissioners to find creative ways to fund local schools and other programs that serve children.

Jeff Hall, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council, said lawmakers are waging an “all-out assault” on public education. Residents are counting on the commissioners, because the school district doesn’t have any money left, he said.

“We are insisting. We are demanding. Frankly, we’re begging for you to fully fund our schools,” Hall said. “We don’t care how you do it – raise our taxes, cut costs, pull it from the county’s fund balance. We don’t care how you do it, but be like Nike, just do it.”

The state Senate proposed a $21.2 billion budget this week that offers teachers an average pay increase of 11.2 percent – if they give up their tenure and longevity pay. The budget also cuts half of the money for teaching assistants and $15 million from the state Department of Public Instruction budget.

Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services, said the plan would leave the city schools seeking an extra $3.6 million.

The county’s proposed $195.6 million budget puts 49.3 percent of next year’s money, or $92.3 million, into the city and county schools.

The commissioners could fully fund both districts’ requests with a 2.6-cent property tax increase. The increase – to 88.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value – would add $78 to the tax bill for a home valued at $300,000.

A second option, which would only meet city needs, is to raise the 20.84-cent school district tax levied on Carrboro and Chapel Hill property owners. A 2.7-cent tax rate increase would add $81 to the tax bill for a $300,000 home.

The county also could use more savings, Commissioner Alice Gordon said. Next year’s budget is balanced with $8.5 million in savings, but the county has enough to fund another $4.2 million in requested schools needs.

The county’s stated goal is to keep 17 percent of its annual operating budget in savings, or roughly $33 million based on a $195.6 million budget. The county has roughly $37 million in savings, staff said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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