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Durham schools seek ‘bold’ funding increase for next year

After a tumultuous few months, the Durham school board on Thursday approved a more than $27 million increase in its budget request for the upcoming fiscal year. This proposed budget allocates nearly a $9 million increase in funds for classified staff compensation and an additional $1.5 million for ESL, EC and hard-to-staff positions. 

Additionally, the board moved forward with plans to build a new Durham School of the Arts, and approved of the demolition and abatement of the building currently on the new site. 

Budget Request Approved 

With the increase, the board’s local funding request comes to over $200 million. 

The budget proposal must still be approved by the Durham County Commissioners, who are expected to vote on the issue in June. 

The district’s total proposed budget for the coming year, which includes local, state, federal and grant funding, is over $633 million. The state legislature is expected to finalize its funding for North Carolina school districts by fall.

The budget proposal, which Moore has called a “bold ask,” includes teacher salary supplement increases and increased pay for teachers with master’s degrees. 

At a recent budget hearing, teachers and staff urged the board to designate more money to EC and ESL teachers because of the vacancies plaguing classrooms across the district. 

Christie Clem, DPS physical therapist, weighed in during public comment on Thursday, adding that the district also risks having employees poached by hospitals. 

In an effort to stop the bleeding, the board approved $9 million in increases for classified staff, as recommended by Acting Superintendent Catty Moore. In a last-minute addition, the board tacked on $1.5 million to be allocated towards supplements for EC, ESL and hard-to-staff positions. 

If the budget is passed by the county commissioners, many classified staff will see pay raises. But some employees remain concerned about the details of the budget, and about how their future pay rates will be affected. 

Many staff members remain confused about what their pay will look like, Clem said. 

Kerry Crutchfield, Durham comptroller, recommended a new pay range for classified employees, but the effects for employees differ. Some classified staff will see significant raises from their current salaries in the next fiscal year, while others may only see a 3% raise from their current wage. 

“No employee will make less than what they are making this year, next year, no matter what,” explained Moore. 

Board and staff discussed how and when to inform staff about what they are going to be paid, noting that many workers remain confused about their pay. The board directed Crutchfield to create projections to clarify what his recommendations would mean for each worker’s pay. 

DSA Construction 

At the meeting, several speakers also voiced continued concerns about the new DSA construction project. 

Matt Kopac, Durham Planning Commission member, asked the board to re-evaluate and assess the construction and the costs of renovations. 

John Hodges-Copple, retired planning director for the Triangle J Council of Governments, voiced concerns about the DSA project taking away funding from elementary school projects listed as priorities in the 2022 bond. 

“Pausing DSA while advancing the elementary schools can demonstrate to the county commissioners that DPS is looking at hard choices to address county financial constraints, in a way that simply seeking more money for the 2022 bond schools cannot,” he said. 

Fredrick Davis, DPS Senior Executive Director of Building Services, reviewed the steps that led to a decision to build a new DSA, including increased capacity and the possibility for new state-of-the-art facilities. He also said that building a new school can happen more quickly than a renovation project. The revised construction cost for the new DSA comes to more than $240 million, he said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the demolition and abatement of the current building at the Duke Homestead Road site, where the new DSA is slated to be built. 

Site demolition will begin in May and groundbreaking for the new school is set to begin in October. 

Moore floated several possible education-related uses of the current DSA campus, such as administrative space or space for a community partnership. “There’s a couple of other innovative programs in the district that need a home,” she said. 

Audrey Patterson