Amidst a state budget impasse, local school districts are facing uncertainty concerning funding.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) held a joint meeting with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) Board of Education and the Orange County Schools (OCS) Board of Education to discuss this topic.
CHCCS Board of Education Member Rani Dasi said she was wary that a state budget would even be approved for the next fiscal year. She said while the budget impasse continues, government institutions continue to operate by the previous budget’s stipulations.
“I’ve heard comments that they don’t have plans to approve a budget next year as well,” she said.
One of the issues that provoked Gov. Roy Cooper into vetoing the proposed state budget in June 2019 was insufficient teacher raises. Board of Education members from both districts suggested that Orange County should fund teacher raises while the budget deadlock persists.
“I think one of the things we should discuss here is the possibility of getting one-time payments of some sort from the County if possible to help offset this problem that we can’t solve ourselves, especially with some of these unfunded mandates that we have to do," said Will Atherton, chairperson of the OCSBE.
CHCCS Chairperson Mary Ann Wolf said some districts like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have been able to give teachers raises despite not having a state budget.
"That is something else that we want to keep in mind as we're trying to predict and anticipate," she said.
Historically, funding provided by counties in North Carolina has been retroactive, but board members said they are unsure if that will be the case when the next budget gets passed.
The BOCC is having to maneuver funding for schools that are in need of millions of dollars for repairs and maintenance. As it is, North Carolina is among the three states with the lowest maintenance and operations funding per student.
For 2020, Orange County supplied CHCCS with just under $9 million in capital funding for necessities including facility needs and upkeep of the county’s schools. Patrick Abele, assistant superintendent for CHCCS, said this was not enough to adequately maintain schools. He referenced research conducted by CHCCS that found its schools need over $12 million per year to be “clean and in good working order.”
He added that another $16 million per year is recommended in order to upgrade school facilities. The district identified nine older schools in need of major renovations that would cost between $200 to $300 million.
Cost to fund critical and lower priority needs for older schools in the Orange County district would require $160 to $220 million.
The longer that funding is delayed, the more expensive renovations become. For CHCCS, it is estimated that each year renovations are not completed, the inflation rate for construction increases by 6 percent. County Commissioner Earl McKee asked whether closing schools down and building new ones would be cheaper than renovations.
“I’m wondering, I’m not advocating, I’m wondering,” he said.
Dasi responded by saying building a new school would be extremely costly.
“You’re probably going to be some significant millions in deconstructing the old school and some other millions in moving people around, and so, there’s also that tension if we even had the space to do it,” she said.
The General Assembly will reconvene on April 28, where voting to determine the state budget will once again take place.
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