Superintendent's Proposed Budget
It is impossible to look forward to the coming school year without looking back at how COVID-19 redefined our school operations.
In partnership with Wake County and other community partners, the district has distributed more than 8 million meals outside of school to keep children fed. About 88,000 technology devices have been distributed so students can remain connected. About 80,000 students attend a Virtual Academy that did not exist a year ago. Countless hours have been spent creating, revising and adjusting academic routines.
Throughout it all, I found myself returning to our district’s core beliefs. You might recall last year’s budget message spoke to our first core belief: “Every student is uniquely capable and deserves to be challenged and engaged in relevant, rigorous and meaningful learning each day.” It is our first core belief because it is the cornerstone of our work.
But there is another core belief I want to reference today. It states that “The Board of Education, superintendent, and all staff, while sustaining best practices, will promote and support a culture of continuous improvement, risk-taking, and innovation that results in a high-performing organization focused on student achievement.”
Our stakeholders were not thinking about a pandemic when they helped write this core belief, but the risk, innovation and continuous improvement it addresses were tested daily this past year. We succeeded in many areas. At times we stumbled. And we incurred new costs along the way.
It is those costs, and the use of millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds, you will find addressed in my 2021-2022 proposed budget.
More specifically, this year’s proposed budget addresses two main needs.
The first is a request to our County Commissioners to make permanent the $11.9 million in “one-time” funding provided last year. Commissioners generously provided this amount to the school district last year at a time when the future of our local economy was extremely uncertain. With many of those uncertainties removed, I am requesting that funding become permanent.
The second request is familiar to you, and to those who have followed our conversations with County Commissioners regarding the district’s multi-year funding plan. Funding in this area was not addressed in last year’s budget due to the pandemic.
I am asking that an additional $16.3 million become part of the county’s annual appropriation to the school district to resume work in this area. It is critical to our continuity of operations as we return to a traditional school year.
You might recall that one key area of the multi-year funding plan was the need to increase counselors, psychologists and social workers. This was an acute need before the pandemic. Teachers routinely told us then that significant academic progress was intertwined with stronger social and emotional support for students. As the pandemic enters its second year, the need for counselors, psychologists and social workers is now painfully obvious.
With these two additional items, I am recommending a request of $28,249,992 in additional funding from County Commissioners for the 2021-2022 school year.
This request reflects two financial realities of this “pandemic year.”
The first is that county services and school operations are still difficult to fully predict following the upheaval of the past 12 months. While we anticipate larger financial requests in future years, I feel the school system and the county would be best served by a more modest request for 2021-2022.
The second financial reality is that federal CARES Act funding, which has been a tremendous benefit to WCPSS, is still being distributed and set aside for future expenses related to the pandemic.
While we could spend every CARES Act dollar on immediate academic needs, we must be mindful of a lesson other districts learned during the Great Recession of 2009. Namely, if we spread the use of additional federal funding over a longer time period, it reduces the need to cut services and personnel when the flow of money ends.
This approach has the added benefit of reducing the amount immediately requested of the county. This is because federal dollars have been used and will continue to be used to meet pressing needs.
Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, thousands of employees and students have succeeded this year. It would be easy – and wrong – to overlook those accomplishments today. For example:
- Our graduation rate is the highest in the district’s history at 90.8 percent. African American students, English Language Learners and Students With Disabilities exceeded the district’s growth rate.
- The graduation rate at 70 percent of our high schools now exceeds 90 percent. Nine schools posted graduation rates above 95%, including five with a graduation rate of 100%.
- We have led the nation in the number of educators earning National Board Certification in our classrooms for 15 consecutive years.
- Magnet Schools of America (MSA) named 39 of 54 Wake County magnet schools as either Schools of Excellence or Schools of Distinction. Five of the top 20 Schools of Excellence nationwide are part of WCPSS, according to MSA.
- Numerous teachers, principals and staff members were honored with regional, state and national awards.
In much the same way I opened this message, I am closing with a reference to our school district’s core beliefs. The sixth core belief states “Wake County residents value a strong public school system and will partner to provide the support and resources to fully realize our shared vision, accomplish the mission, and sustain our core beliefs.”
This has been a difficult year for everyone. But the challenges have also highlighted the wisdom of those in our community who helped develop the core beliefs that guide us. Public education is the foundation of a strong community. And despite its heavy toll, the pandemic also revealed the strength of our foundations.
I believe this proposed budget allows us to simultaneously build on that foundation and weather the remaining challenges of COVID-19.
Cathy Q. Moore