Quarter-cent tax increase in limbo, County Commissioners expected to vote this month

Sometime this month the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will make a decision on a motion to include a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in 2020

Quarter-cent tax increase in limbo, County Commissioners expected to vote this month
September 05
10:41 2019

Sometime this month the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will make a decision on a motion to include a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in 2020. The capital acquired from the tax increase is expected to be used to increase local teachers’ supplements.

It’s no secret that teachers in North Carolina are underpaid, according to estimates by the National Education Association; N.C. ranks 29th in the nation for teacher pay. In an attempt to change that narrative locally and give our educators a more competitive wage, Kenneth Simington, WS/FCS interim superintendent, while presenting the annual budget proposal to the Board of Commissioners earlier this year, requested an additional $40 million, in addition to $137 million from the county, to help increase teacher supplements, raising classified worker pay, and address capital project needs across the district. 

District officials have said it’s their goal to move toward getting WS/FCS among the top five averages for teacher supplements in the state, and increase minimum wage for classified employees to $15/hour. Classified employees are identified as all “non-licensed positions” within the district, including teacher’s assistants, bus drivers, maintenance workers, custodians, and technology specialists.

Supplements are paid to all certified educators to account for variances such as geographic location, market conditions, or school demographics. Currently WS/FCS ranks 20th in the state for supplements and last among districts in the major metropolitan areas. 

Although several commissioners raised questions about the supplement and how school officials calculated their numbers, less than a month after Simmington made his presentation, the Board of Commissioners approved a one-time, one percent property sales tax increase to support the district’s teacher supplement goal and other educational needs. 

The tax, which went into effect July 31, is expected to generate $3.7 million, but it comes with stipulations. The county will hold the money until the school board provides a supplement schedule that will serve as a guide to help the district reach their goal.

Around the same time, discussions about the quarter-cent sales tax began to surface, and talks continued last month when the school board’s finance committee held a special meeting to discuss the matter. The tax increase is expected to generate about $13.5 million and will be used for both teacher supplements and classified pay.

The motion to support the tax increase being added to the ballot in 2020 passed 4-1, with Dana Caudill Jones casting the lone ‘No’ vote. 

Jones raised questions about the need for the school board to vote on something that should be handled by the county commissioners. She said the board did their job when Simington made the request. 

“We showed them what our needs were,” Jones continued. “We are not a taxing entity. We do not set a tax rate and we do not set a billage rate. And so we did make the ask and if they feel like this is the best way to do that, then of course, I feel this board will support it. 

“But what I heard during the meeting I was invited to by Chair Woodbury from commissioners was the ask needed to come from us and it wasn’t what we were asking for but how to fund it. And I don’t believe that’s in our lane.”

Jones said she wants it to be clear that she supports teachers and classified employees, but there is nothing in law holding the county to their word that the quarter-cent tax will be used for education or teacher/classified worker pay. 

“How do I look in the face of a voter or a teacher or a classified employee and say this is guaranteed? Jones asked. “It’s not guaranteed. It’s just like the one percent property tax that the county levied, you guys haven’t seen that money yet because they put a string to it.” 

Other board members raised questions about what will happen when the quarter-cent sales tax generates less than $13 million. 

During the full board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27, the item to vote on the quarter-cent sales tax was removed from the agenda. It is believed that the board will work on the resolution they plan to submit to the county to address the concerns raised by the board.

When discussing the resolution and the possibility of raising teacher pay, Malashai Woodbury, school board chair, said, “Good God, I hope we don’t leave this money on the table for teachers and classified people. 

“I hope we figure out how to get where we’re all trying to go. I do understand that there are some legitimate concerns that I respect from the different board members. I want us to work collaboratively with each other, with county commissioners, and also FCAE. I really am hopeful that at the end of the day, it will work out for the whole.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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