At the end of the primary ballot on March 3, voters will be asked to consider a quarter-cent tax resolution that, if passed, would provide an estimated $13 million that would be used to increase local teacher supplements.
The North Carolina General Assembly establishes a teacher pay scale that all school districts must use to pay their classroom teachers. Local school districts can pay teachers an extra teacher supplement from the local funds received from their county (111 out of 115 school districts pay a local teacher supplement). Currently the average teacher supplement in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is below the state average and last among the five urban counties in North Carolina.
School systems use local teacher supplements to recruit and retain the best educators. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board has a goal of ranking in the top five counties in teacher supplements and the Forsyth County commissioners share that goal. The school system needs $12 million annually to accomplish that. The commissioners increased the property tax rate by one cent this year to support teacher supplements, but it would require a 3.5 cent property tax hike to get to the $12 million goal.
The commissioners are not in favor of a property tax increase this large; the rate is already burdensome on homeowners and those on fixed incomes. Since a quarter-cent sales tax would generate $13 million, the commissioners approved placing this referendum question on the primary ballot. If this referendum is successful, the commissioners have committed to reducing the property tax rate by one cent.
The tax is only a quarter of a cent — that’s one cent for every four dollars spent. The tax does not apply to gasoline, groceries, prescription drugs, automobile purchases or rent and real estate transactions. On those items that are taxed, all out-of-county shoppers and people passing through will pay the tax.
If the quarter-cent sales tax is passed, it will go into effect July 1, 2020, and teachers will see an increase of $2,000-$3,000 in their local supplement starting in the 2020-21 school year.
The referendum is on the ballot for the March 3 primary election. Early voting begins today and goes through Feb. 29. It’s a nonpartisan issue, so it will appear on every ballot, regardless of your party or if you’re an unaffiliated voter.
The quarter-cent sales tax question is the last item on the ballot and is titled “Forsyth County Sales and Use Tax.” Voters are asked whether they are “for” or “against” a “local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes.” The commissioners would like to have included “to be used only for teacher supplements” at the end of the ballot question. Unfortunately, state law dictates what’s on the ballot, and doesn’t allow for the purpose of the tax to be stated.
Both the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education have unanimously endorsed putting this on the primary ballot as a possible long-term solution for funding local teacher supplements. I certainly hope that all voters will support this opportunity to support out teachers.
Don Martin is the vice chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and former superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system.