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County budget falls short of school system request

Durham County Manager Kimberly Sowell presented a recommended $955 million budget to county commissioners on Monday. And while the budget includes $201 million for Durham Public Schools  — a  $13 million increase — the proposal is still about $14 million short of the school board’s request.  

“The county’s commitment to education continues to be unwavering,” emphasized Sowell. “DPS continues to be the single largest expenditure for Durham County government, at 32% of the entire general fund budget.” 

The recommended budget will result in a 3.25 cent tax rate increase, raising the countywide tax rate to 78.47 cents per $100 of property valuation. 

Yet it falls short of what school system leaders requested. In April, the Durham school board voted to request a $27 million increase in local funding for 2024-2025 after months of protests from DPS employees and the community. The proposal would allow for pay raises for support staff, certified employees, and classified employees. 

Sowell acknowledged this funding discrepancy. Due to slowing revenue growth, higher service demands, and higher costs, she said she was unable to recommend DPS’ requested budget in full. 

“I’m aware that remaining funding gaps exist within the district,” Sowell said. 

Sowell suggested that county leaders “meet routinely” with school system representatives over the course of the year to strategize together on how to meet DPS’ remaining needs. 

She also noted that the school system has received several recent funding increases. 

“With this appropriation and recommended budget, Durham Public Schools’ annual county funding will have increased by almost $47 million over four years,” Sowell said. 

In response, DPS Interim Superintendent Catty Quiroz Moore released a statement promising continued efforts to secure more funding. 

“Our sincere and fervent hope is that we will all continue to advocate for the additional funds and support needed to ensure that our students and teachers are resourced with high quality academic support and safe, conducive learning and work facilities,” Moore said. “We are all accountable for the win, that being our students’ success and our employee recruitment and retention.” 

For 2024-2025, education continues to make up the bulk of the county’s general fund expenditures, at 34.47%. Educational expenses include support for Durham Technical Community College, PreK, and Durham Public Schools. In addition to the 7% increase in funding for DPS, Durham Tech funding will see a 1.88% increase, and Pre-K programs will see an increased investment of $965,448.

Other budget increases include $13.3 million to provide a 3 percent raise to county employees, $1.4 million for the eviction diversion program, and $845,000 in additional funding for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. 

With several requests and recommendations on the table and a $14 million funding discrepancy looming, school funding promises to draw continued discussion at the public hearing on the proposed county budget on May 28 at 7 pm

Jianna Choi