TCC Coffee Chat with Wake County Public School System - July 20, 2016

The Triangle Community Coalition
had another successful Coffee Chat with the
Wake County School Boardon July 20, 2016. 

Joining our members in an informal chat were Tom Benton, Chairman of WCPSS Board D1, Monika Johnson-Hostler, Vice Chair, D2, Bill Fletcher, D9, Susan Evans D8, Jim Martin, D5, and Kevin Hill D3.

The TCC had an amazing showing of board members for the first Coffee Chat with Wake County Public Schools in several years.  The board just came off a long night to discuss the Wake County Public School budget and there was obvious frustration at the $17.5MM gap in funding.  We’ll discuss that in a minute. 

The TCC had a good showing of members ranging from national home builders, developers and businesses to land-use attorneys and engineers. 
The group was small enough, however, to gather around a table and really have an intimate conversation about development, the School System and some of the issues both unique and shared. 

 Quick Facts – let’s open it up!

  •  WCPSS has a $1.5Billion, yes with a ‘B’, operating budget annually.
  •  WCPSS has 18,000 employees.
  •  It costs approximately $8000/year/pupil in Wake County – of this about $4k is for a typical good student, while there is about $3,800/student that goes towards meeting the needs of special education. [for reference – catholic schools and charters which are not required and do not cater to the special needs, are able to educate a student for about $4,000/year/pupil.]
  •  Reference was made that Massachusetts, with their significantly higher taxes, costs as much as $15,000/year/pupil.
  • 13% of the student population in Wake County receive special education (national average is about 5%, so this shows the disproportionate amount WCPSS holds).
  •  18% of the student population in Wake County are on the AIG (academically intelligent/gifted) program (4% is the national average).  So Wake County Public Schools is desirable place for achievement.
  •  Of the total operating budget annually, 60%+/- is provided by the State, 30%+/- through County funding while the remaining 10% is made up through federal funding and other local sources.
  •  The building program provided through taxpayer bonds is $373MM (20% of the total $1.84B total budget).
  •  Of the total operating budget, 94% goes towards personnel; broken down a little differently 91% goes towards schools, 6% on operations support, 2% on academic achievement and only 1% on school board, superintendent, chief of staff and communications.
  •  This years $17.5MM budget gap represents just 0.8% of the total budget. 
  •  For every $0.01 of property tax increase in Wake County it equates to $13MM.
  •  The per pupil funding from ‘08~’15 has decreased by 0.2% while the total growth & enrollment grew by 14%.

Board member Kevin Hill discussed some interesting notions that Wake County is a very large population, and with that comes a very large volume of $ that is generated through tax.  The school system budget is significant!  The school system is among the top 20 largest programs nationally.  The school system is trying to meet demand with the projected and actual growth.  As well… the school system is trying to keep up with the cost of living. 

Board member/Chair Tom Benton discussed that the funding created by the County gives the most flexibility.  The County funds above the state minimum (base) rate because what is acceptable to the State is not as good as Wake County.  For example Wake County gave over 20% more over the past 3 years (which doesn’t include growth statistics).  

Board member Susan Evans commented that the School Board cannot tax.  Funds are from the State and the Federal allocations.


Strategic Plans for WCPSS 
5~10 year perception of “bad or under performing schools” will be remediated.  Cite example of Knightdale which as seen a resurgence in positive feedback in as few as 3 years.  7 year plan is to get 11 schools  renovated from the ground up.  The slowdown in growth during the recession has helped with current renovation plans.  Goal to reduce dependence on mobile units through existing school renovation.  Apex HS will use the new Green Level High School set to open in 2017 as their home base for 2 years
while Apex HS is completely renovated.  WCPSS is using new construction to phase existing facilities and improve those locations.

 Districting:  The WCPSS Boards full-heartedly supports that a County-wide central board provides central operation and keeps the cost of operation down significantly over community schools.  Economies of scale are significant over districts.

 Funding from the State Level: According to several board members it appears that State SenatorChad Barefoot is in opposition to the budget allocation to Wake County, while there is pro-movement/support from State House Representative Rosa Gill to provide Wake County the needed budget amount.

 Current Teachers/Staff:  

  • Teachers within Wake County are citing issues related to the job such as “no more autonomy” and “no time to teach” where the larger emphasis is board-scale testing and end of year grading which has taken its toll on traditional grading.

  • As to teacher retention and attraction – Huge Concern!  The surrounding states show the pay scale is up, and these states are promoting/scouting from North Carolina.  The biggest concern now is that there is not going to be enough teachers in the future.  The current university and “out-of-state” pipelines that were generous to NC during 2008 (recession) have since become stale.

  • There is a similar empty principal pipeline due to the similar situation.

Year Round vs Traditional:

  • With 4 tracks that are fully loaded there is a 30% capacity but it comes with an operational expense. 
  •  WCPSS is the only county in NC that has a multi-tract year-round system in place.
  •  Amongst the WCPSS participants there is a growing dissatisfaction with year round calendar citing mostly mis-alignment of household students schedules. 
  •  There is currently 2,000 empty seats in year round programs, meaning that participants are preferring the traditional tract.
  •  During the highest growth [2005] there was 2000 pupil/year growth rate.  The WCPSS needed more capacity and the answer was year round, so the 2006 plan submitted included year round schools to meet this capacity need.  In the 2013 building plan WCPSS did not assume year-round, the WCPSS board opted for traditional. 
  • In summary the efficiency and operational costs of runninga High School year-round over the traditional tract doesn’t appear to work with the current system. 
  •  The WCPSS board cited that a mandatory “year-round” schedule would result in a lawsuit filing. They discussed the 2009 change in the board makeup due, in large part, to the year-round grumblings.

Future Concerns:

  •  Build capacity where it is needed!
  •  Renovation may suffer due to new school/emerging markets winning over.
  •  Capital Plan past 10 years is all about growth.  The WCPSS has 2MM SF of buildings that are over 40 years old without renovation, roughly 10% of the current facilities.  To put that in perspective, the County plans for minor renovations at 20-years and major renovations at 40-years.  There is a serious need.  The board is trying to get the need for new schools and the renovations of existing facilities on the same “need” scale.
  •  Capital Budget and Operational Budget planning in the future is a challenge, and the Board would like to see the budget forecast 10-years out using the projected tax rate and what that might be?