Commissioners to vote on giving part of proposed sales tax to schools

Commissioners to vote on giving part of proposed sales tax to schools
October 04
05:00 2018

At the request of the Board of Education, the county commissioners plan to vote today, Oct. 4, on allocating part of the quarter cent county sales tax to local schools.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education is under pressure to find a way to increase teacher pay supplements after a viral video showed a conversation between Superintendent Beverly Emory and county commissioners, where they told her the school board can “just ask” if it needed more money for supplements from the county’s budget. This didn’t happen. According to Emory and the school board, they have been working on other ways to increase supplements.

This has included a conversation with the county about the quarter-cent sales tax that it’s placing on the November ballot. The tax is supposed to cover the debt service from building a new Hall of Justice.

The tax, which does not apply to groceries or gas, is expected to pull in $3-4 million annually beyond what it takes to cover the debt. Emory and County Manager Dudley Watts discussed devoting almost 40 percent of that excess revenue to the school system. Last week, the school board told Emory to ask county commissioners to make that official so it could be used for supplements. She sent an email to Watts with the request and it was discussed in the commissioners’ briefing last week.

It was well received by the commissioners. All firmly said they supported the idea, except Commissioner Richard Linville who wanted to see more concrete details before he voted on it. Even Commissioner Everette Witherspoon, who opposed the tax because he says it’s regressive, would support it if part of it goes to teacher supplements. He felt this could turn the sales tax from a ballot item that has gotten little visible public support to one that could pass.

“I don’t even know if this is going to pass without a push from the school system or without a push from the Forsyth County Association of Educators, because right now there’s hardly any momentum,” said Witherspoon.

The school board’s request essentially applies the county’s school funding formula to the excess revenue. The formula devotes nearly 40 percent of new property tax revenue to school funding. This doesn’t apply to property tax increases used to solely cover debt, so if the sales tax fails and the county has to instead raise property taxes next year for debt service, the school system would receive no revenue from that. 

It’s estimated that the sales tax could bring in $1.2-$1.4 million for the schools. This would easily cover the school system’s first year of its six-year plan to increase supplements, which would cost $1 million. The second year would cost nearly $1.9 and continue increasing until it costs $5.2 million by the sixth year, which would require other revenue sources.

Emory’s email had a second request, asking for a county commissioner to be part of a school board “Funding Study group.” During last week’s school board meeting, this was described as a committee that would look at the school funding formula and see if it should give a higher percentage of tax revenue to the schools.

The commissioners rejected that request. Only Witherspoon and Commissioner Fleming El-Amin supported the idea. Witherspoon said he thought the group could use the expertise of a commissioner and El-Amin, a former teacher, volunteered to be a part of it. The other commissioners didn’t want to do it, saying that the school board should come up with its own proposals and then bring them to the commissioners. County staff can help with whatever the group needs, but the commissioners didn’t want to be part of the decisions of another elected body like the school board.

“They need to do their work and then they can come and say ‘We’ve done this work, this is where we see it is and this is what we’d like to propose’ and then we’d be in a position to ask questions and begin discussion,” said County Commissioner Don Martin, who is a former school superintendent.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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