County proposes tax increase to provide additional UCPS funding

County leaders dedicated to keeping taxes low now are considering a rate hike this year to address growing school system needs.

The Union County Board of County Commissioners and the Union County Public Schools Board of Education held a joint meeting on Thursday, May 22, to give county commissioners a look at UCPS’s proposed 2014-15
budget.

The proposed $314,404,337 budget will now be used by the county in determining how much funding the school system will receive for its operating budget and capital expenses. The decision comes at a time when the two boards are still working to find resolution over last year’s school funding lawsuit and subsequent $91 million jury award favoring the school
system.

The county is proposing a nearly 9-cent increase for the UCPS portion of the county’s property taxes in order to provide the additional funding needed. Last year’s total county tax rate, including all departments and UCPS, was 66 cents per $100 of property value. If approved, the increase would bring the tax rate to 74.69 cents, with all additional funds going to UCPS, according to County Manager Cynthia
Coto.

The largest areas of concern for the coming year, according to the presentation made by UCPS Chief Finance Officer Dan Karpinski, will be an increase of nearly 1,000 students, salary increases for teachers and other school employees, utility cost increases, health insurance costs and additional payments to county charter schools. UCPS is currently 106th out of 115 school districts in the state in per-pupil funding, with $7,520 per student in the current 2013-14 school year. North Carolina’s national average for per-student funding is
$8,033.

“If we took the number of students we are going to have next year times what we spent in 2008-09, it’s actually a greater budget than what we are presenting to you tonight,” Karpinski said at the meeting. UCPS spent $7,756 per student in 2008-09, which would result in a proposed budget of $326 million if used today.

Another key focus for the coming year will be teacher salaries, as North Carolina leaders are trying to increase pay for educators throughout the state.

“Even if we get (the proposed increases), we will still be behind in teacher supplements,” Karpinski said. “We are having a hard time attracting and retaining teachers (at) high priority
schools.”

The state is currently trying to increase the average salary for a starting teacher to $35,000 and  create different leadership opportunities for teachers to receive additional dollars without having to move into an administrative role. Starting teachers in UCPS currently make $32,850 with a bachelor’s degree and $37,430 with a master’s degree, according to the Union County Public Schools
website, www.ucps.k12.nc.us.

UCPS also is projecting an increase in utility and maintenance costs for the coming year, as many buildings are older and require more work, Karpinski said. The 2009 Comprehensive Facility Study showed $283 million in capital needs throughout the school
system.

“Basically what it comes down to is our buildings are getting older (and) supplies and materials are getting more expensive,” he added.

The two boards also were scheduled to host a joint meeting on Tuesday, May 27, but it was postponed due to the board of education having insufficient time to look over the county manager’s proposed funding for UCPS, according to a UCPS news release. The meeting will be rescheduled for a time that has not yet been announced.

Other budget meetings concerning UCPS and the county budgets will include: a public hearing for the UCPS proposed budget and tax rate on Monday, June 2, and a public hearing for the total 2014-15 county budget and combined tax rate on June 16, a Monday.

County commissioners have to adopt a 2014-15 budget prior to June 30 or pass emergency legislation to continue county business until a budget is in
place.

 

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