HILLSBOROUGH- More than a hundred parents, teachers and children squeezed into Thursday’s public hearing on the county budget, while others spilled out into the hallway at the Department of Social Services, waiting for their chance to beg the board of commissioners to spend more on schools.

“We’re not asking you for more advantages for our children or more programs for our children,” said Mindy Morton, co-chair of the Smith Middle School Improvement Team. “We just want enough money so that we can keep it the way it is. So please make that a priority and fund our schools.”

Nearly three dozen speakers addressed the board, with most warning of dire consequences if Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools lose funding for teaching assistants.

Many acknowledged that the proposal to cut more than 4,000 teaching assistant positions statewide comes from state legislators, not county commissioners, but time and again the speakers said it’s up to the county to bridge the funding gap.

“If the state legislators de-fund thousands of teaching assistant positions, local school districts across North Carolina will be dealt a very raw deal,” said Julie Tucker, parent of a student at Grady Brown Elementary. “We cannot pass that raw deal on to our children. Not in Orange County.”

At issue is the county manager’s recommended budget for next year. While it covers the operational cost for both school systems and accounts for growth projections, it falls about $6 million dollars short of fully funding the requests put forward by the school boards.

The recommended budget does not include a property tax increase or an increase in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax, but several speakers said they would be willing to pay more.

“It is really important that we get what we need,” said Laura Pittman. “I’m a single parent and I’m willing to pay more. I’m willing to put more dollars in your coffers so I can have the education for my kids that they need.”

The board would need to raise the property tax rate by 5.5 cents per $100 of valuation to fully fund both school systems.

Commissioners made no comment at the public hearing, but at a work session just afterwards, they signaled they would be willing to invest in capital projects for each district in the next fiscal year, building a science wing for Culbreth Middle School and an auxiliary gym for Cedar Ridge High School.

A second public hearing on the budget will be held on 7 o’clock next Thursday at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. The board will begin deliberations on the budget June 6.