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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to ask for $5.4 million in extra funding

In the face of state and federal budget cuts, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will ask Orange County officials Thursday for $5.4 million in extra funding for the upcoming school year.

The $5.4 million is in addition to the current $68.7 million budget CHCCS has submitted to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

A large portion of this extra money — $1.9 million — would go toward the completion of Northside Elementary School, which will help address overcrowding in the system’s elementary schools.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the extra funding is necessary to ensure Northside is on par with the district’s other elementary schools.

“All of our elementary schools have locally funded positions, and in new schools we have to offer the same ones,” LoFrese said.

He said these positions include teacher assistants, gifted education teachers and custodial support.

Northside Elementary, which will be equipped with “green” features like a rooftop garden and bamboo flooring, will cost about $2.3 million to open in August — $1.9 million of which is still unfunded.

“We need to open this school, that is not optional,” said CHCCS Board of Education member Annetta Streater. “We could certainly be building a school for a lot cheaper, but not one that will meet all of our needs.”

She said the request balances out to an extra $400 per pupil.

The Board of Education has recommended the county raise the special district tax — which goes directly to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools — to raise the requested funds.

In order to fully fund the budget shortfall, a tax increase of $.0494 is needed.

County Commissioner Penny Rich said though she doesn’t want to support the tax raise, she believes local children deserve the best.

“I’m not nervous about Northside — I like the model, and we definitely don’t want to fall behind,” she said. “This is one of those hard conversations that needs to happen.”

She said it is unfortunate that the state has cut education funding so heavily, leaving the county to fill that gap.

Board of Education member Jamezetta Bedford said she doubts the county will be able to fund the full request.

“We make a request every year, and they never give us all of it,” Bedford said. “We won’t know what they decide until several meetings and work sessions later.”

And pending budget decisions the state and federal level will also affect how much money CHCCS ultimately receives.

“What with sequestration at the federal level and salary increases at the state level, right now we don’t know what to expect,” Bedford said.

Bedford said some of the requested money would go to purchase more supplies, as the state quit funding textbooks three years ago.

“We also want middle school literacy coaches, more exceptional children classes and more security professionals at all schools,” she said.

LoFrese said he does not expect to have a clear idea of state and federal funding until June or July.

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But Rich said for Orange County, education tops the list of priorities.

“Everyone comes and asks for money, and we have to see how much we have and how much we can actually give them,” Rich said. “Education, of course, will always be a priority.”

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