Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education has approved a budget proposal for the Wake County Board fo Commissioners to consider that includes a $28.2 million increase next year largely for supporting students’ emotional health, including hiring more school psychologists.
Superintendent Cathy Q. Moore recommended a budget increase from Wake County commissioners, what would amount to a 5.5% county funding increase, mostly to address students’ emotional health.
The request is for $544.2 million from the county. On Monday, county leaders recommended $539.2 million for the school district, a more than $23 million increase from last year, although still below the district’s funding increase request.
In recent years, the school district’s budget increase requests haven’t been approved or favored as much as the proposal for next year.
Wake County’s contribution to the school district’s budget is about 28% of the district’s proposed budget. The county’s current contribution to the school district’s budget — representing more than a third of the county’s nearly $1.5 billion budget — goes to the school district.
On Tuesday, district Chief Business Officer David Neter said the board of education and the county board of commissioners would reconcile the differences in their budget proposals after the county board of commissioners passes a final budget.
Moore’s budget request, that the board approved Tuesday, intends to make permanent a one-time $11.9 million budget increase the county gave the school district last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also adds $16.3 million to, among other things, increase the number of school counselors, psychologists and social workers.
“I think you can take a look at this proposed budget and easily see what our priorities are,” Board Chairman Keith Sutton said. Taking care of students’ social and emotional needs and the district’s employees are clearly laid out in the proposal, he said.
While the Wake County Public School System is asking for permanent recurring funding increases from the county, the county is using one-time funds for some expenses. That potentially would be the use of one-time federal funds to prevent laying off 500 employees, if the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t maintain the district’s funding.
The district’s overall planned budget is for $1.9 billion, though Neter said Tuesday that could change based on what the North Carolina General Assembly ends up approving this summer for school funding.
About 60% of the district’s funding comes from state appropriations. The planned budget so far assumes a 3% pay increase for teachers, which district officials acknowledged may not occur.
Part of the district’s plans for next year also include adding 15 months of employee pay to each school for an employee to be devoted to learning intervention. That employee would identify students’ needs and develop plans for them to succeed or graduate on time, Assistant Superintendent for Academics Drew Cook told the board.
The district will use data to determine students at risk of not passing on to the next grade level but also students whose performance dipped below their normal, he said.
The district’s budget was also altered to shift how some money is spent, though not increasing the budget or the district’s request from the county.
After board members expressed concern for a slow increase in pay for the district’s lowest paid employees, district officials returned Tuesday with a proposal to spend $10 million in federal funds, including $3.2 million one-time funds, on maintenance and operations in the district’s buildings, including ventilation improvements.
Officials also proposed using $3.6 million in federal funding toward the district’s plan to increase pay for support staff. It would be a one-time use, however, requiring local funding in future years to maintain the expense.
The board approved those changes as a part of the budget Tuesday.
Board Member Jim Martin said the use of one-time funds was appropriate in this situation, expressing frustration that the state doesn’t spend more on education in the county.
Martin listed off numerous things the district needed but doesn’t have the money for, including funding for higher teacher pay and more special education services, school counselors, school nurses, school social workers and other support staff.
“These are items that are state items, and the county should not have to fund,” Martin said.
Holding testing ‘harmless’
The Wake County school district plans to only count End-of-Course tests toward a high student’s final grade if those test scores end up raising their grade.
Virtual Academy students who skip the tests will have their final grade based on the averages from the third and fourth quarters.
The district outlined this policy in a presentation Tuesday at the Wake County Board of Education’s afternoon work session. It continues the policy the district had in the fall, as students and educators face challenges and disruptions to learning routines because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Carolina State policy requires that end-of-course testing account for at least 20% of a student’s final grade.
While school districts must follow that policy, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction spokesman Todd Silberman said districts are changing how they do that this year to mitigate the negative impact of test scores on students.
DPI has required all tests be taken in-person this year, citing oversight concerns for how students would take the tests online, at home.
In Wake County, virtual students will be invited to attend school on testing days, but those students can skip.
The state has received waivers from the U.S. Department of Education on testing 95% of students and on using test results to determine a school’s or district’s placement on a low performing list.
For that reason, the Wake County district isn’t aiming for everyone to take the test, said Brad McMillen, assistant superintendent of data, research and accountability. It won’t require families to send their virtual academy students to school.
“We don’t want them to have to make a choice between their child or their family’s health and their GPA,” McMIllen said.
The U.S. Department of Education has requested that states continue to administer standardized testing this spring. States can request a deferral until next fall, but North Carolina has not done so.
Sutton said continuing to test was important for the district to be able to measure student progress and regression during the COVID-19 pandemic’s learning disruptions.
“But what we need to ensure that schools, teachers and students and principals are not penalized because of the impact of testing and performance,” Sutton said.
Virtual Academy sign-ups
More than 14,000 Wake County students are registered for Virtual Academy next year, Moore told board members Tuesday.
That represents less than 9% of the about 158,000 students enrolled this year. District officials anticipate a slight enrollment increase next year.
It’s unclear so far what grades those students are in, what schools they attend, or how sign ups will affect which courses are offered in the fall.
District officials have said they plan to offer core courses and limited electives for Virtual Academy, while planning to have Virtual Academy instruction be entirely separate from in-person instruction so that teachers’ attention is no longer divided between two classrooms.
Just less than half of students, about 77,000, are enrolled in Virtual Academy right now.
The sign-up period closed May 2, but parents and guardians who still wish to enroll can put their names on a waitlist by May 12.
Parents and guardians were asked to commit to a full year of Virtual Academy, with the board potentially reconsidering that requirement after the first semester based on any changes in children’s eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine. Recent news reports indicate that children as young as 12 may be eligible soon. Currently, only people 16 and older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Summer learning incentives
The Board of Education will vote May 18 on financial incentives for educators and staff who sign up to work during the district’s 6-week summer learning program this year.
The district has outlined incentives plans so far for educators — $45 per hour and a $1,200 bonus for working the whole six weeks. That bonus is $400 for teachers who work only three weeks and for those who work a two-week session at a year-round school.
The district will have details on non-certified staff incentives at the board’s May 18 afternoon work session, prior to the board’s vote that evening.
Parents and guardians in Wake County have begun this week receiving invitations for their children to attend the summer learning program, which targets students at risk of not proceeding to their next grade level. They have until May 14 to decide whether their child will attend.
Election cycle proposal
The Wake County Board of Education approved Tuesday night a resolution to ask the General Assembly to change board members’ elections to odd-numbered years and stagger the years certain board seats are open.
The request is for local legislation supporting the changes.
Currently, all board seats are up during the same even-numbered election year, and they’re elected to two-year terms. Prior to 2013, however, board members’ terms were staggered and elections were held in odd-numbered years.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed a law that, among other things, changed the school board elections. A federal court struck down the law in 2016 and a. Subsequent consent decree kept the elections the same. That consent decree, according to the resolution passed Tuesday night, expires with the conclusion the 2020 Census and the commencement of political redistricting.
New elementary school named
The Board of Education has approved naming the district’s newest school Rex Road Elementary.
The school is in Holly Springs and will open next year. It’s located on Rex Road.