CHAPEL HILL- For the second time in two weeks, parents and teachers raised their voices to ask Orange County Commissioners to raise more money for schools.
Nearly a hundred residents turned out for Thursday’s public hearing on next year’s county budget and the vast majority called for a tax increase to fund both school systems.
“I’m here tonight, with many others, to ask you to do what it takes to fund the school districts at their requested amounts,” said Margaret Samuels. “I would support an increase in the county tax and the special district tax to support both school districts.”
“I’m a property owner, a taxpayer, a father and a citizen,” said Hunter Pendleton. “I’m anxious to pay more taxes.”
“My parents said they’re willing to pay more in taxes so the schools will have enough money to keep things going the way they are now,” said third-grader Calvin Hinkle.
“I honestly would be disappointed if I open my tax bill in September and I don’t see a tax increase in it that fully funds our schools,” said James Easthom.
The manager’s budget recommendation covers operational expenses and enrollment growth but it does not fully fund the requests from either school board.
To generate the $8.8 million in additional funding the school boards are asking for, commissioners would need to raise the county-wide property tax by 5.5 cents per hundred dollars of value. Alternately, commissioners could increase the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax by the same amount to generate 5.7 million for that school system alone.
Commissioners have not raised the property tax rate in four years. Victoria Templeton reminded the crowd that school budgets have been shrinking during that time.
“Initially the cuts were used to improve efficiencies, but now we’ve gone beyond efficiencies and we’ve gone beyond waste and we’re now cutting essential programs,” said Templeton.
All parties agreed that the funding shortfalls are made worse by state and federal budget cuts. Commissioner Mark Dorosin urged the audience to make their voices heard next week at the Mega Moral Monday protest at the General Assembly.
“It is incredibly important, as you all said so eloquently tonight, to understand that while we’ll do what we can, the real struggle is much bigger than what’s happening in the county,” said Dorosin. “It’s happening statewide.”
The commissioners will take up budget negotiations at a work session on June 6.