Thursday, April 18, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Non sequitur, illogical, or just plain crazy

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Some of our readers have occasionally jested with this newspaper’s publisher and some of our reporters that we’ll never run out of stories, or material for the newspaper’s editorial page opinions, as long as Alamance County has a school superintendent, school system, and school board like at present.

And this week’s performances didn’t disappoint in keeping that record intact.

It was bad enough that seven months into the fiscal year, the school superintendent and his underlings have suddenly discovered that they’re in a whale of a hole in their finances.

Gone is all the “happy talk” of months past.

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Even after our reporters sat through more than 7½ hours of meetings (a joint meeting last Thursday and an ABSS work session on Tuesday afternoon), it’s hard to get a full explanation of how the school system’s financial situation has become so stark, and so suddenly.

Their primary focus seems to be that their utility bills have skyrocketed. (Which is inevitably attributed to the mold problems from last summer.) Everything (except accountability) is attributed to the mold problems that already cost taxpayers millions.)

Still, it’s difficult to fathom that much increase that now ostensibly projects to put them $3.2 million in the hole.

Superintendent Dr. Dain Butler persisted in his view that he has to institute some layoffs and payroll cutbacks (generally, to reduce a few dozen employees from a 12-month salary to a 10-month schedule with a corresponding reduction in overall payment) because of his “tight budget.”

That was despite the lifeline extended last week – a poor judgment by the commissioners in the first place, in our opinion – by giving the school system $250,000 (that it had not yet asked for) in order to forestall the widely-anticipated RIF (reduction in force) that the superintendent had been threatening.

Looking a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying goes, Butler said this week he’s proceeding with the RIF, though slightly trimmed back (and now relabeled as “separations”), but is going to apply the $250,000 gift from the commissioners to paying for utilities, rather than applying it to avoid the RIFs, as  commissioners had intended and specified in the motion they unanimously adopted.

We don’t much imagine that the commissioners, having stuck their necks out to help (with taxpayers’ dollars, of course), are going to be very satisfied with spending the money on something entirely different from what they said it was to be spent on.

Oh my, the tales of financial woe were interesting, and we can even work up a little bit of sympathy for a few of the problems.

Utility bills are allegedly higher than expected, or budgeted – which seemed a bit puzzling in light of  more moderate than usual winter weather.

But it seems that school officials forgot – a pretty big “oops,” in our view – to include utility costs ($160,000) for a new high school that had been under construction for two years and opened last August. (So it’s not like it was a surprise, or an unexpected event.  Just incompetence to remember to include it in their budget in the first place.)

How can you forget or overlook the fact that you have a brand spanking new $67 million high school about to open?

Another ostensible reason for the tight budget situation: state allotments are down.

Mmm, that’s an odd one.  Teachers are paid, mostly, from state funds, based on pretty straightforward statewide funding formulas, based primarily on enrollment.

Any reduction in state funds would suggest a decline in enrollment.  But the superintendent claimed, as recently as a few weeks ago, that ABSS enrollment had exploded to almost 1,000 more students over the last several months.

But, as usual, the superintendent couldn’t be entirely straightforward, including instead figures that represented fully half of that supposed “increase,” which were actually private and charter school students who received Exceptional Children’s services through ABSS.

The state’s Department of Public Instruction doesn’t allow private or charter school students who attend a few classes, or participate in sports, to be included  or defined as “enrolled” in this school system – nor any other one across the state.

But the superintendent’s “bottom line” this week is that he wants to approach the commissioners for another $3.2 million, which represents about a 6.5 percent increase in the $48.8 million budget that commissioners gave him last June.

That original amount included $897,930 that commissioners added at the last minute in response to an earlier panicked plea from Butler.  (And as previously noted last week, part of that plea was to give that extra almost million dollars in order to avoid any RIFs.)

Just by the way, this supposed “deficit” ($3.2 million) is a projected one, not one that currently exists – yet.  And the even more amusing note was how many times school officials emphasized that most of their “savings” would have no – repeat, no – impact on the current year’s budget.

So, what’s the point of Tuesday’s bloviating, we and the public are left to wonder?

But dear taxpayer, just to brace yourself, the superintendent also gave a tentative outlook for his next budget: a 10.7 percent increase.  Is there no limit to his appetite to spend?

But here’s what truly the most ironic aspect of Tuesday’s so-called work session that must cause regular folks to scratch their heads in disbelief.

After talking endlessly (at least two hours) about the dire straits of the school system’s budget situation, Butler had the audacity to recommend a whole new spending spree – for so-called classified employees.

He wants to establish a special county-funded (of course) supplement (i.e., on top of their regular salaries) for these lowest ranking employees – the janitors, secretaries, and other support staff.

After all, he reasons, if teachers, principals, assistant principals, and central office bureaucrats get a special supplement, so should the bottom of the totem pole.

So, superintendent, how much would that cost?

No amount specified.

But we’ve calculated a range, based on the bare details provided; it’s another benefit that will cost taxpayers roughly $100,000 to $500,000 per year.  And for what educational benefit?

Another half-baked idea without much research that one might consider fundamental to such a proposal.

You don’t have to have studied Latin to know that these two discussions within the same 4½ hour meeting amount to a non sequitur of monumental proportions – i.e., a conclusion or statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.

In non-Latin, laymen’s terms, it’s illogical to be begging for more money while simultaneously dreaming up ideas of how to add spending for unnecessary expenses – which, by the way, you don’t even have and aren’t likely to get – while also threatening job cuts.

The even more common term, much-deserved here, is just plain crazy.

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