Monday, February 26, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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$250K for ABSS added to commissioners’ agenda and approved – in order to forestall RIF for employees

Alamance County’s commissioners have thrown the local school system a financial lifeline of $250,000 in order to stave off some layoffs that the system’s administrators are reportedly mulling due to an unanticipated shortfall in revenue.

The commissioners unanimously approved this one-time allocation on Monday despite a relative dearth of information about the financial predicament that has gripped the Alamance-Burlington school system – or the actual impact it may have on staffing at area schools.

The school system put out a statement on Friday outlining 24 potential separations and another 30 positions that might have reduced months of employment. See that outline HERE.

Commissioner Craig Turner ultimately proposed the $250,000 allocation, which hadn’t originally been on that morning’s agenda, so as to provide everyone with some breathing room while they try to puzzle out what’s wrong with the school system’s financials.

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“Part of what’s causing stress is the time that’s involved in making a decision. I would like to create a little more time to delve into this problem – time to ask questions about how we got here, why we got here, and what are some solutions.”

– County commissioner Craig Turner

“Part of what’s causing stress is the time that’s involved in making a decision,” Turner told his fellow commissioners. “I would like to create a little more time to delve into this problem – time to ask questions about how we got here, why we got here, and what are some solutions.”

Turner went on to note that the school system has not sent the county a formal request for more funds since its superintendent first intimated the prospect of a “reduction in force” in a public statement on Friday.

He added that the county had yet to receive any hard numbers on the size of the school system’s alleged deficit and details about the specific positions that might be affected. Nor, he pointed out, do the commissioners have any more regularly-scheduled meetings to consider these issues before the Alamance-Burlington school board plans to address the proposed reduction in force on February 13.

In light of these manifold uncertainties, Turner proposed that the commissioners give the school system enough revenue to tide it over for about six weeks or so while their respective leaders can dig into the issues that underlie the apparent financial calamity. To this end, he suggested a $250,000 allotment from the county’s general fund to “forestall a reduction in force.”

“And if that money is not used for that purpose, but is used for something else or not used at all,” he added, “this board would deem that $250,000 an advance for next year’s budget.”

In the end, all five members of the county’s governing board agreed to support Turner in this proposal. Yet, several of his fellow commissioners joined the 5-to-0 a bit grudgingly due to their growing concerns about the school system’s fiduciary responsibility as well its penchant to appeal to the general public in its increasingly frequent disputes with the county.

Over the past several months, some of members of the county’s governing board have become ever more aggravated over the school system’s repeated use of press conferences and news releases to sort out its differences with the county. This tendency to address the commissioners through the news media seemed to be on full display this past Friday when superintendent Dain Butler issued a public statement in which he claimed that as many as 24 positions are on the chopping block due to an unspecified shortfall in the school system’s operational funds.

Butler’s public pronouncement apparently dredged up some bad memories for John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners. Paisley has previously complained about the school system’s fondness for “ambushes” by news release, and on Monday he recalled some of the instances in which this tactic was turned against the county’s governing board.

“I ask that, instead of going to the press and showing leaky roofs that have been fully funded, to come to us and say ‘hey, we have a problem.”

– County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.

“I ask that, instead of going to the press and showing leaky roofs that have been fully funded, to come to us and say ‘hey, we have a problem,” Paisley recalled before Monday’s unanimous vote.

Meanwhile, other commissioners were equally indignant about the repeated fiscal faux pas that the school system has made since this past spring, when its administrators discovered a financial shortfall literally on the eve of the county’s passage of its current annual budget.

“We’ve already funded this once. But I’m going to vote for your motion. . . and I think that this shows that we the county commissioners are going beyond what anybody should do.”

– County commissioner Steve Carter

Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, insisted that the school system’s current financial crisis sounds eerily similar to this earlier catastrophe.

“We’ve already funded this once,” Carter added, addressing his comment to Turner. “But I’m going to vote for your motion…and I think that this shows that we the county commissioners are going beyond what anybody should do.”

Carter went on to recall that a majority of the commissioners ultimately agreed to tack an extra fifth of a cent onto the county’s tax rate in order to raise the $867,000 needed to cover the shortfall last spring. His residential sense of resentment was echoed by commissioner Bill Lashley, who admitted that he still hasn’t forgotten the way in which he and his fellow commissioners were seemingly wangled into an additional tax increase.

“I did it that night [voted for higher tax rate in order to add funding for ABSS] against my better judgment, and now, I have to look at myself in the mirror, and say I got duped.”

– County commissioner Bill Lashley

“I did it that night against my better judgment,” he recalled, “and now, I have to look at myself in the mirror, and say I got duped.”

Yet, when all was said and done, each of the commissioners agreed that it was time to bury the proverbial hatchet.

In approving Monday’s bailout, the commissioners seemed to take their cues from school board member Dan Ingle, who approached them during a public comment period that morning to extend rhetorical “the olive branch” after months of squabbling between their respective boards. This same sentiment was later expressed in a somewhat oblique fashion by commissioner Pam Thompson, who shared an allegory about leadership following Monday’s decision.

“Good leadership means being there for people when the chips are down, not just when they’re helping us be successful. So you see, we have to support the different agencies in this county…I’m asking all of us to just stop, get at the same table, and work together as if our very lives depend on it – because for children, it does.”

– County commissioner Pam Thompson

“Good leadership means being there for people when the chips are down, not just when they’re helping us be successful,” the commissioner asserted in her final remarks. “So you see, we have to support the different agencies in this county…I’m asking all of us to just stop, get at the same table, and work together as if our very lives depend on it – because for children, it does.”

For complete text of ABSS’s superintendent Dr. Dain Butler’s statement to staff and later to the press, click HERE. For an updated statement, issued after the commissioners’ meeting, click HERE.


Read the newspaper’s editorial view on the commissioners’ action: https://alamancenews.com/not-any-way-to-run-a-railroad-or-a-county/

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