Education advocates ask commissioners for tax increase, more school funding

MONROE – County commissioners will take a little more time to consider the 2013-14 fiscal budget – time that could be used to contemplate increasing taxes to pay for teacher raises and other initiatives discussed at this week’s budget public forum.

Union County Board of Commissioners members heard from a number of Union County Public Schools advocates at the public forum Monday, June 3, many of whom asked for more money from the county to fund, among other things, a raise for educators.

“We’re losing teachers to other counties because of the financial situation that’s occurring,” said one Mineral Springs resident who has a child at Parkwood High School. “I am requesting you add funds to the school budget specifically for raises for the teachers.”

Commissioners are considering a 3 percent, merit-based salary increase for county employees that would not include school system employees. School funding is being decided using a new formula, adopted recently by commissioners, that would see UCPS get $82 million for operations. Commissioners on Monday said the money would cover the entire instructional funding request from the school system – including teachers, teacher assistants and support staff. Another $3.5 million will go to capital projects, including $1.7 million to renovate the stadium at Piedmont High School. Commissioners said the system did not ask for money to renovate the
stadium at Sun Valley High School though acknowledged the stadium was in need of improvements.

Overall, Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said the school system is in much better shape with this year’s budget than last year, thanks to the formula. The county also is adding funding for an increase in school resource officers and security improvements at schools at the request of the school board. Last year’s budget involved a fight that saw school teacher assistants laid off due to cuts in state funding. That money eventually came through, and assistants were rehired.

“Had that (formula) been in place last year, that entire battle we went through last year with our teacher assistants would not have existed,” Thomas said. This year, if the school system is forced to make cuts, Thomas said he wants to see those cuts come from outside the classroom.

But UCPS advocates aren’t interested in cuts, as shown during Monday’s public forum. Instead, they point to a county tax rate that is lower than many comparable counties – at 66 cents per $100 of taxable income – and say residents will appreciate commissioners going against their no-tax-increase policies to increase taxes and improve the situation for Union County educators.

“We are 4- to 17-cents less in (our) county tax rate than surrounding counties,” said an Indian Trail resident with students at Hemby Bridge Elementary School. “Maybe it’s time to look at that. … I hope you have the courage to do so.”

Two women with children at Antioch Elementary School also asked for a tax increase, saying voters would reward commissioners for taking the initiative.

“It makes me sad, with what we pay our teachers and what we’re expecting of them,” one of the women said.

Commissioners were scheduled to vote on the budget at Monday’s meeting, but moved the vote back to the county’s June 17 meeting. That meeting will take place at the county government center, 500 N. Main St. in Monroe, at 7 p.m.

Along with taking additional school funding requests into account, commissioners also will be considering what impact homeowners may see on their taxes through the upcoming property tax revaluation.

Towns in western Union County are yet to vote on their budgets, though none of the proposed budgets include tax increases. Marvin, Stallings, Weddington and Wesley Chapel are scheduled to vote on their budgets Monday night, June 10, and Indian Trail and Waxhaw are scheduled to vote Tuesday night, June 11.

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