The WCPSS school board met for their winter budget retreat on Saturday, February 14.
The meeting featured a barbershop quartet, casual conversation, and weekend jeans. It also provided a look inside how the school board may approach the coming budget building process.
Chief Finance Officer David Neter provided an update on priorities board members had shared. Additionally, he provided a cost estimate for each priority. Neter then created a hypothetical situation in which WCPSS would ask for an additional $16 million in funding for the 2015-2016 school year. With $11 million of that going for growth, board members had $5 million to spend on priorities.
Divided into three groups, and armed with laptops, spreadsheets, and staff standing to answer questions, board members set out to address priorities with hypothetically available funding.
The three groups took different approaches to spending. One group spent exactly the $5 million provided. Another group spent the $5 million, and added another $1 million. The final group spent the $5 million, and added another $18 million.
Kevin Hill, a member of that third group, offered that, “We need to ask for what we believe we need.” He was fully aware that the hypothetical total request for local funding would then total $34,256,000 more than what was provided last year.
It was clear that most board members were frustrated by the budget retreat exercise. “None of this is a wish list,” noted Bill Fletcher, and Tom Benton added, “there are a lot of critical needs left.”
The exercise paints a clear picture of the challenge before the board members. They believe they have options available to create results for kids. They know they have fiscal parameters that severely limit their options. “We’re not only going to have to prioritize what we do, but we’re going to have to prioritize where we do it,” said Jim Martin.
Neter pointed out to the group, a group well aware of this fact (see page 12 of the current WCPSS abbreviated budget document), that local spending per pupil is lower in Wake than many other counties around the state. An increase of per pupil spending by $100 provides an additional $15.5 million in funding. That’s no small number for board members feeling limited in their options.
Board members appreciated the deep discussion on these items, especially prior to the release of the superintendent’s budget. Several weeks remain before that budget will be released.