Lashley doesn’t want to add to ABSS savings; wants no money left for supt. severance

Fresh off the heels of a budget work session earlier this week, Alamance County commissioner Bill Lashley is vowing to buck a proposal to create a $500,000 “emergency” fund for the Alamance-Burlington school system that he says he fears could be diverted to a second severance payment for the former ABSS superintendent, who resigned March 4.

That pronouncement followed a work session the commissioners held Monday morning to discuss budget priorities for ABSS, along with the dozens of other external agencies and county departments that receive part or all of their funding from the county, for the fiscal year that begins July 1 (see related story, this edition).

In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, Lashley confirmed that his objective in keeping a tighter rein on funding for ABSS is to ensure there are no remaining county funds (i.e., undesignated fund balance, or “rainy-day savings”) that could be used to bankroll a second severance payment for former superintendent Dr. Dain Butler.

“My goal is to not let any money trickle into that fund balance,” Lashley told the newspaper Tuesday, saying he objects strenuously to any potential use of county taxpayer funds to pay Butler a second round of severance.

Butler is eligible to receive a total of $218,670 in severance that would be paid in two separate installments, under the terms of his resignation agreement.  The first severance, $102,038, was due to be paid by March 31 and depleted the remaining unassigned fund balance ($102,038) that ABSS had on hand when the previous fiscal year ended June 30, 2023, based on the school system’s latest financial audit.

State law requires the payment of any severance to the former superintendent to come exclusively from the unrestricted fund balance within the county-funded portion of the budget for ABSS.   By statute, county funding is the only type of three revenue sources (federal, state, and local) that ABSS is allowed to carry over from one fiscal year to another, in the event any funds are unspent after the books are closed at the end of any given fiscal year.

Pending available funds, Butler also will be eligible later this year to receive a second severance payment of $116,632, as outlined in his March 4 resignation agreement.

“My goal is to not let any money trickle into that fund balance.  When you read the [resignation agreement between ABSS and Dr. Dain Butler], you realize that Alamance County taxpayer funds have to go into the fund balance to pay him that second severance.”

– Alamance County commissioner Bill Lashley

“When you read the [agreement], you realize that Alamance County taxpayer funds have to go into the fund balance to pay him that second severance,” Lashley pointed out in the interview.

Meanwhile, during Monday’s discussion, Alamance County manager Heidi York proposed that the commissioners give ABSS an additional $600,000, which she later trimmed to $500,000, on top of their customary annual allocation for current expenses and building maintenance.

While the county manager framed that additional $500,000 as an “emergency contingency” fund that could alleviate the need for ABSS officials to ask the commissioners for additional capital funding after the new fiscal year begins, Lashley expressed alarm at the possibility any part of that emergency fund – which he said ABSS officials had asked York to include in her recommended county budget – could eventually find its way into Butler’s pocket.

“I call it a petty cash fund.  They call it an emergency fund [in case] something comes up.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them a half-million dollar petty cash fund and call myself a Republican.”

– County Commissioner Bill Lashley

“I call it a petty cash fund,” Lashley told the newspaper Tuesday.  “They call it an emergency fund, [in case] something comes up.   I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them a half-million dollar petty cash fund and call myself a Republican.”

“This is throwing good money after bad, paying for failure.  In my view as a commissioner, I don’t understand how you can pay almost a quarter of a million [dollars] for failure.  Now the school system is in financial ruin, and you’re going to take even more money to pay him for failure? You’re going to give him more money? How can you continue to give them more money, when they totally mishandled it?”

– County commissioner Bill Lashley

“This is not the county’s position; this is Bill Lashley’s position,” he stressed in the interview Tuesday.  “This is throwing good money after bad, paying for failure.  In my view as a commissioner, I don’t understand how you can pay almost a quarter of a million [dollars] for failure.  Now the school system is in financial ruin, and you’re going to take even more money to pay him for failure? You’re going to give him more money? How can you continue to give them more money, when they totally mishandled it?”

For an example of what he deems mishandling of county funds, Lashley pointed to millions in county capital funding that ABSS has received but not spent during the past two years, such as the $11.3 million in unspent county funding for roof repairs.  He also cited the $514,965 in county current expense funding that ABSS requested and received for the current 2023-24 fiscal year to hire seven high school athletic trainers.

“They didn’t need that money; all they needed was enough to pay three athletic trainers,” Lashley said Tuesday, alluding to the fact that school officials revealed earlier this year that just three of the seven slots had been filled.

Lashley also recalled how, just before the commissioners were set to adopt a county budget on June 19 of last year, Butler made a last-minute plea for an extra $870,000 in county funding, on top of the approximately $51 million in county funding that ABSS had requested for the 2023-24 fiscal year – and then claimed to have surreptitiously recorded each of the commissioners agreeing to that additional allocation in order to fund an increase teacher supplements.

“They asked for $870,000; they didn’t spend but $600,000,” Lashley recalled.  “It’s as plain as the nose on your face: this isn’t right.”

“This comes as my idea,” Lashley insisted.  “The reason my idea was spawned was the vote that occurred on the school board, 5-2, to pay [Butler].  The reason was the damage that was done.  Let him get a lawyer and sue us.  If the school board wants to give away Alamance County taxpayer money, that doesn’t mean the commissioners have to go along with it.”

School board members Ryan Bowden and Seneca Rogers had voted against accepting Butler’s resignation agreement on March 4.  Both Bowden and Rogers said at the time that they supported the resignation agreement but disagreed with paying Butler any severance, given the financial constraints that ABSS is facing – in particular, a $3 million budget deficit that the state Department of Public Instruction projects ABSS will have during the next 2024-25 fiscal year.