06/25/17 — School's $2M included in state budget

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School's $2M included in state budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 25, 2017 7:52 PM

A one-time $2 million funding supplement for Wayne County Public Schools is included in the budget approved Thursday afternoon by state lawmakers.

It still has to be acted on by Gov. Roy Cooper.

If the money remains through final budget approval, Wayne County taxpayers would be spared a 2.46 cent increase in their property tax bills.

Wayne County commissioners have indicated they would approve the increase, if the  $2 million does not survive, in order to ensure the schools are not shortchanged.

In May, the county discovered it was in danger of losing $4 million in low-wealth education funding over the next two years because its tax rate failed to meet the state funding threshold.

County Manager George Wood has said that the 2.46 cent increase would be less expensive than the heftier increases that would be required to meet an ever-changing threshold.

Commissioners agreed.

But rather than enacting a budget with a tax increase, commissioners last week adopted an interim budget in which no tax rate was set.

Final budget approval is waiting on the state budget and the $2 million supplement that would make up this year's low-wealth shortfall.

Commissioners will have to wait on a long-term fix to the funding issue.

A change in the language of a budget provision that provides an exemption to meeting the threshold did not happen, said Rep. John Bell, who along with Rep. Jimmy Dixon and Sen. Louis Pate were budget conferees.

As now worded, the exemption applies only to counties where military bases are located as long as the county schools have an average daily membership of more than 23,000 students. Wayne's current average daily membership is around 18,826.

Schools that meet that threshold would receive the same amount of supplemental funding for low-wealth counties that they received in fiscal year 2012-13.

Commissioners wanted to keep that provision in the final state budget, but have the number of students reduced to 17,000 or 17,500 in order for Wayne County to fall under the exemption.

It will take a little more research and time to make sure to get the changes done the right way prior to the next legislative session, Bell said.

"We will have to fix the wording over the interval," he said. "We don't want to mess it up and have it affect other counties. They are in the process of actually trying to get that handled during the interim.

"But what I was able to do was get the $2 million for the stabilization fund so it wouldn't disrupt our schools and our county because it definitely would be a hit to our school budget."