Shift in Budget Approach: Continuation Versus Base

We’ve written about this before, but a second look is worth taking.

In this past legislative session, a change was made in how the biennial state budget will be prepared.  In past years, state agencies were able to prepare a continuation budget that reflected predicted changes.  For example, the Department of Public Instruction was able to include projected enrollment growth of school districts.  The continuation budget submitted reflected this additional funding.  This is helpful for a growing district like Wake, a district still adding at least 2,000 students a year.  School districts are able to hire teachers and equip classrooms.  Even more, districts operating year-round schools had funding needs provided for classes starting in early July.

For the 2015-2017 biennial budget, however, a baseline budget will be submitted before any expansion or reduction of the base budget can occur.  The new definition of the base budget cannot consider items such as enrollment growth and inflation increases.  These will be considered expansion items, and will be considered in this new way.


There is real fear among school board members and school district staff in Wake about what this budgetary change could mean.  It is likely very real in every school district that is growing by substantial numbers.For growing districts in North Carolina, it makes sense to be concerned about this change.  For Wake alone, consider an additional $15.5 million dollars in state per pupil funding for the 2013-2014 school year ($5,486 per student x 2,821 students = $15,476,006).

This funding puts teachers in classroom to receive students for instruction on the first day of classes.  What happens if expansion items to the budget are not approved until late July, or August, or early September?  How does a school district hire teachers?  For many principals, hiring decisions are made during summer months – or even before the prior school year is over.  What do they do with students who arrive on day one of year-round or traditional calendar school years?  How will they transport additional students without additional buses or bus drivers?

And it may likely become a very real concern for the Wake County Board of Commissioners.  School board member Tom Benton deftly noted that, “The bottom line is, local counties are going to be left trying to figure out how to cover bases.”

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