Saturday, May 18, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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ABSS’ shameful propaganda, disinformation campaign

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The Music Man was a rather famous 1950’s era musical, which stars as the main character a so-called professor, Harold Hill, an organizer of a boys’ band in River City, Iowa, who sells the town folk band instruments and uniforms, with the further promise to train their students on the instruments.

“There’s Trouble in River City” goes one of the show tunes in the production, as Hill seeks to set up his band program as an alternative for the kinds of trouble students might get themselves into.

In actuality, however, Hill is little more than a charlatan, who poses as a devotee of the town’s students and adults, but really is just scheming for his own purposes and plans to skip out as soon as he collects their hard-earned money.

Somehow, that image keeps recurring to us as an all too unfortunate, but rather apt, illustration of ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler – and, quite frankly, some of his puppets who preside over the current school board.

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In Butler’s case, what he’s trying to sell is an image of crusty, curmudgeon-like county commissioners who won’t give him all of the money he wants.

Which is especially ironic, considering that ABSS has received more county funding this year than in any prior year since passage of the $150 million bond issue in 2018.

His and his allies’ latest ploy, which was especially shyster-est, was to try to blame the commissioners for “insufficient funding” when several schools’ roofs leaked after severe storms crossed the area on January 9.

The PR machine of the school system was ginned up to give tours and show the media several schools – Graham High School and Graham Middle School were the most prominent – with leaky roofs.  The subliminal message was that this outrage was caused by the tight-fisted commissioners.

Which made for great propaganda that day.

But like most propaganda, it wasn’t true.

The county commissioners had been willing to take only so much guff from Butler and his school board minions.

So last week, they put out a rather detailed outline of the funding that commissioners have approved for ABSS school roofs over the past several years ($15.6 million).

The real eye-popping figure was that, of that amount, $11.3 million, or 72 percent, remains unspent.

Yes, ABSS has – and has had, in some cases, for several years – money from the county government to do the roofing work, but ABSS, not the commissioners, hasn’t done the work.

And here’s the real kicker: dear readers, would you like to hazard a guess as to some of the schools that have been funded for roof repairs by the commissioners, but for which no work has yet been undertaken?  Yes, you would be correct: six of the seven schools cited in ABSS’ January 9 propaganda piece and hand-fed to the media, including both Graham High School and Graham Middle School which were the centerpiece of the school system’s rainy day disinformation campaign. [See separate story in this week’s edition.]

During a facilities meeting on Thursday, county commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr. questioned school officials about what he called the “unfair” portrayal of the commissioners contained in that January 9 propaganda piece.

ABSS school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves wanted to change the narrative by trying to claim that ABSS had merely responded to media requests by showing the two Graham schools.  She did not address, neither during the meeting nor when questioned by this newspaper afterward, why the press release focused on these schools that had, in fact, already been funded for roofing work.

Nor did she answer why the school system sought media publicity, another of Paisley’s complaints, without first informing county government of any problems.  (Something it still hasn’t done.)

“If you had the money, why haven’t you gotten the work done?” Paisley asked school officials, a rather logical and obvious question in our view.

The school system’s chief operations officer Greg Hook explained that he’d been on the job only since last March and there was a lot to handle.

A word about Hook; he seems like a nice man who’s trying to be conscientious, at least we’ll give him that benefit of the doubt. He was, by all reports, a good principal before being elevated by Butler to his current post.

However, he has absolutely no construction, engineering, financial, or other relevant background that one would expect for someone in his current position overseeing school facilities, millions of dollars in contracts, supervising the work that contractors perform, and so on.  Hook’s predecessor, by contrast, had been a general contractor at some point in his background.

Being put in an untenable position that he might not be properly equipped to handle is not Hook’s fault; that responsibility rests with the superintendent who put him there and continues to tolerate having an inadequate response to many of these recent facilities issues – roofs, mold, etc.

Meanwhile, the school system still hasn’t made any report to the county government about the roof leaks that prompted its publicity stunt on January 9.

And no wonder.  We’re quite sure they don’t want to answer questions like Paisley’s.

While Hook may have only been on the job since last March, Butler has been at his since July 2022.

Ultimately, responsibility rests with him – for the failure to oversee getting roofs fixed (a rather basic prerequisite, in our judgment, for having a proper learning atmosphere) and most other facilities issues.

By the way, get ready for even more outrageous propaganda from the school system.

We note that school officials have bragged last week about getting a federal grant of some kind to allow them to broadcast on television.

What they clearly hope is that they can frame their issues to suit the superintendent’s agenda.

Another indication of the reflexive tendency to blame the commissioners was this week’s Public Asks question about one school’s decision to ban students whose parents are behind in paying for their children’s school lunches from attending an upcoming Valentine’s dance.

When our reporter first broached the question to the school system’s Les Atkins, the public information officer, his instinctive first reaction was to say that the school system is underfunded – seeming to imply by the county commissioners.  That is until our reporter reminded him that the school lunch program is entirely a federal program.

The answer to ABSS propaganda, by the way, is not for commissioners to get their own propagandist, in the form of a so-called public information officer, as at least one commissioner apparently wants – and which county manager Heidi York has included in her first outline of a potential county budget unveiled this week during a budget retreat. [See separate editorial.]

In the musical production, professor Harold Hill ultimately sees the error of his ways, confesses his failings, and is reformed without swindling the townspeople.  A happy ending.

It is unclear thus far whether Butler will follow that route or continue with his tendencies toward deception and disinformation.

But in either event, let both commissioners and the general public beware.

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