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Schools, teachers win big in new county budget

The Durham Board of County Commissioners passed a budget that included a $20.6 million increase for Durham schools on Monday, receiving a standing ovation from members of the Durham Association of Educators in the audience. The budget gave the school system nearly all the money it had requested, which will pay for raises for teachers and classified staff.

Durham schools will additionally receive funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), bringing the total DPS allocation to just shy of the school board’s $27.5 million request.

The increase for the schools was included in an overall county budget of $966 million. The amount was $10.3 million over the county manager’s recommendation.

The new budget increases property tax by 4.65 cents per $100 valuation, to 79.87 cents.

Following a turbulent year in which DPS administrators decided to rescind salary increases that they could not afford, the new budget will spend $8.8 million on raises for classified staff.

The DAE, which mounted an energetic campaign urging commissioners to support the increase, celebrated the decision with a Facebook post that said, “FULL FUNDING for our historic DPS budget! Organizing works!”

The budget passed 4 to 1, with commissioner Brenda Howerton as the sole member voting against.

“It is my contention that property tax increases by both the city and the county during the same period — it’s too much to ask our citizens,” Howerton said, adding that there should be an extensive external and internal audit of DPS spending.

“Accountability. Accountability,” said Howerton, who was not reelected last spring.

Howerton was not the only commissioner who expressed qualms with the school board. While she voted in favor of the ordinance, Nimasheena Burns, vice chair of the Board of Commissioners, said she distrusts the school leaders.

They have “mismanaged money for the better part of the decade, and I need y’all to do what you did to me to them, and put their asses out of office. And I mean that,” said Burns, who also lost her bid for reelection in March.

Other commissioners said they were happy with the budget.

Commissioner Wendy Jacobs choked back tears as she thanked Durham County staff, the board, and the larger community. Said Jacobs, “Budgets are a moral document and reflection of our values.”

Chair Nida Allam echoed Jacobs’ contentment.

“As my colleagues have said, tonight is a historic moment in Durham county. We’re celebrating the passage of this $966 million budget that speaks volumes about our collective commitment to progress, equity, and community welfare.”

Lily Kempczinski