Superintendent's Budget Letter
April 2, 2019
Wake County Board of Education:
On countless occasions during my first nine months as superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, I have witnessed a commitment to learning among our teachers, students and families that is truly inspirational.
When I see this, it reminds me of the first core belief in the school system’s Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. “Every student is uniquely capable and deserves to be challenged and engaged in relevant, rigorous, and meaningful learning each day.”
“Every student…each day” has become the shorthand phrase for some – a simple and direct expression of our heavy burden of responsibility. My first annual budget proposal underscores that belief and the compelling needs of our 160,000 students.
I am not suggesting this budget meets all those needs. As a North Carolina school district without taxing authority, we greatly appreciate the past several years of steady and generous support from our Wake County Commissioners. But an increase in financial obligations required by the state, coupled with a loss of budget flexibility approved by the General Assembly, has restricted our ability to provide children with the support we believe they need.
In fact, 40 percent of my proposed request for increased local funding addresses only state requirements, such as money passed directly to charter schools, consequences of new class-size legislation and the local share of pay increases, retirement funding and hospitalization costs.
More specifically, I am requesting a total increase in local funding of $48,851,521. Of that amount, $19,560,210 is driven by state requirements.
The next two largest items in this budget request also illustrate an important change from past years.
The first amounts to nearly $8.2 million in additional local funding for new schools. As you know, our overall enrollment growth was quite small in 2018-2019. If one were to consider only the overall enrollment, it would understandably lead to questions about the need for new schools.
It would also overlook the fact that dozens of our schools exceed 100 percent capacity, nearly 1,000 classroom trailers are used each day and residential growth in western Wake County continues unabated. All of these factors help explain why four new schools are opening next year. The cost to open them is $8.2 million. More new schools will follow in future years.
The next largest item in this proposed budget helps cover the costs of deferred maintenance and operational needs. This budget category will also remain for years. It is accurate to think of it as needs that went unaddressed while we chased the rapid enrollment growth of previous years.
This category covers not only physical needs, but also wages for non-certified staff such as bus drivers, custodians, fleet mechanics and others who support the school. Salaries in these areas have eroded to the point where some vacancies now linger for months. At the same time, the amount of money spent on maintenance has fallen well below industry standards.
Indeed, some costs are so significant that a multi-year funding plan is the only practical approach. You can find additional detail about the district’s multi-year needs in the pages that immediately follow this letter. In addition to maintenance and operations, the summary includes areas such as the personnel costs of K-3 class size and the need to hire more counselors, social workers and psychologists.
By default, a proposed annual budget request highlights needs. But we should not allow these needs to overshadow the accomplishments of our teachers, students and families.
• Our graduation rate is the highest in the district’s history at 89.1 percent. For the fifth consecutive year, the rate of improvement for minority students exceeded the district’s growth rate.
• The graduation rate at more than two-thirds of our high schools now exceeds 90 percent. Five schools posted graduation rates of 100%.
• More than 97 percent of teachers met or exceeded NC academic growth standards this past year. We have led the nation in the number of National Board Certified teachers for 13 consecutive years.
• A large majority of our schools are diverse and thriving. In addition, Magnet Schools of America named 36 of 51 Wake County magnet schools as either Schools of Excellence or Schools of Distinction.
• We continue to remain an economic engine for our community, helping to attract and retain families who, in turn, help sustain the county’s overall progress.
“Well-supported, highly effective, and dedicated principals, teachers, and staff are essential to success for all students.” This is the third core belief of our Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. It was written in part by a broad cross-section of the community almost five years ago.
I urge all of us to reflect on that belief as we strive to meet our community’s expectations that every student has access to a public education system that prepares them for life. Every student … each day.