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School board agrees to remove athletic trainers, media assistants from county budget request; looks to county to make up $522K funding gap for hiring SROs

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Alamance-Burlington school board members couldn’t fully agree among themselves Tuesday on what items should be eliminated from their original county budget request in order to hire full-time School Resource Officers at 14 ABSS schools that currently have part-time SROs (see accompanying chart for a breakdown of which schools have full-time and part-time SROs).

School board members had agreed to revisit their county funding priorities following the school shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

In subsequent interviews with The Alamance News, some school board members sensed an urgency to put full-time SROs in each of the 36 ABSS schools.  Currently, 20 ABSS schools have a full-time SRO.

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The interim county manager’s recommended budget would fund the school system’s “mandatory” continuation expenses ($2.6 million), as well as $945,000 for new “selected items” related to safety and compensation, ABSS chief business officer Jeremy Teetor told the school board Tuesday afternoon (see accompanying chart).

“They’re not telling us this is what you would have to do with the money but coming up with a recommended amount,” Teetor told school board members during their latest work session.

The board members ultimately couldn’t agree on what items should be eliminated from the school system’s original county budget request.

However, school board members agreed by consensus Tuesday afternoon to spend the $945,000 in new county funding for ABSS, as recommended by interim county manager Sherry Hook, on two items: hiring four new, full-time SROs ($245,000); and increasing the county-funded supplement for teachers by .5 percent and the county supplement for principals and assistant principals by 1 percent ($700,000).

School board members have also tentatively agreed to revisit their county funding priorities once the incoming superintendent, Dr. Dain Butler, takes office on July 1.

In the meantime, school board members agreed to ask the commissioners to help them identify where ABSS can make up the $522,000 funding gap to hire 10 other SROs, school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves summarized at the conclusion of a nearly hour-long discussion Tuesday afternoon – prior to a joint meeting with the county commissioners later that afternoon.

Teetor acknowledged during the discussion that the latest school shooting in Uvalde, Texas had raised additional questions about the local school system’s spending priorities.

Originally, ABSS had tentatively earmarked $980,000 in its initial county budget request to hire 14 additional full-time SROs, based on the funding request that school board members voted to submit to the county in late March.  The original $980,000 to hire 14 SROs was later reduced to $245,000 to hire four new full-time officers for ABSS schools.

Currently, ABSS receives approximately $1.8 million in state and county funding for SROs.  Of the total, $1.3 million comes from county funding; and $577,865 comes from a combination of state grants for SROs and a state at-risk allotment, based on a breakdown of the funding that Teetor provided for the school board’s discussion.

Responding to a question from school board member Ryan Bowden, the incoming ABSS superintendent, Butler, who was present for the discussion Tuesday afternoon, said he feels confident that the administration can find a way to fund another spending priority that school board members had identified earlier this spring: hiring six new contract high school athletic trainers, estimated to cost $250,000 during the upcoming fiscal year.

“I don’t want the commissioners to come to the table and we just ask for a handout.” – school board member Ryan Bowden

“I don’t want the commissioners to come to the table and we just ask for a handout,” Bowden said Tuesday.  “I don’t think we can do that without a lot of hard discussion.”

But not all school board members felt the same urgency about hiring additional SROs in ABSS schools – at least not right now, if it means putting other spending priorities off for another fiscal year.

“Let’s not act like this is a new discussion. This is not new.  What we have been able to do, just like with the teacher supplement [is to increase funding incrementally.  We are where we are today because of that [effort to increase funding].  I think everybody’s just super-sensitized because of what happened in Texas.  I think that everybody in this country right now thinks there should be an SRO in every school.” – school board member Tony Rose

“Let’s not act like this is a new discussion,” said school board member Tony Rose, who recalled that SROs had been identified as a budget priority for at least 10 of his 12 years on the board.  “This is not new.  What we have been able to do, just like with the teacher supplement [is to increase funding incrementally.  We are where we are today because of that [effort to increase funding].  I think everybody’s just super-sensitized because of what happened in Texas.  I think that everybody in this country right now thinks there should be an SRO in every school.”

Rose pointed out that he has supported hiring additional SROs throughout his three terms on the board, but added, “We just need to figure out where we’re going to get that money from.”

With the $945,000 “expansion budget” that the interim county manager has recommended for ABSS, Bowden countered, “the only thing we can [fund] is teacher supplements and SROs.”

“So the only thing they [Alamance County’s commissioners] want to pay for is four more SROs?” asked school board member Wayne Beam.

“This is their original recommendation,” Ellington-Graves explained. “Now, I think everybody is sensitive to school safety.  Is it clear to the board that we’re committed to getting an SRO in every school?”

“I think philosophically everybody would say yes to that,” Rose responded.  “If the commissioners were to say, ‘yes, we’re going to give you all the money for SROs,’ then yes.”

School board member Allison Gant acknowledged during the discussion that funding for additional full-time SROs had been a high priority for ABSS long before the shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

“I don’t disagree that SROs should be in our schools, but I’m struggling when we pushed putting athletic trainers in our budget but [now we’re talking about taking them out],” Gant said Tuesday.

“Here we go again, reacting, just like the country does, reacting to the most recent school shooting to establish our priorities,” said school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson.  “We have made strides with our SROs.  Do we sacrifice our teacher supplement? We already cut it from 1 percent [the original recommendation].  We finally made it to the point where we are competitive with surrounding counties…The latest school shooting hasn’t changed my priorities. I’m not changing my position or going into this meeting or trying to cut back on things we’ve already cut just because of the latest school shooting.”

Meanwhile, school board members briefly discussed Tuesday afternoon the possibility of establishing a committee to examine school safety and to look at how ABSS policies might be strengthened to improve school safety.

“No – I’m not willing to sacrifice anything at this point to have additional SROs in our schools. There are other things we need to address: security cameras, mental health – all of those things.” – school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson

“All of those things are addressing school security,” Simpson said.  “No – I’m not willing to sacrifice anything at this point to have additional SROs in our schools. There are other things we need to address: security cameras, mental health – all of those things.”

Bowden urged his fellow board members to remember that there are other priorities that were identified earlier this year that also will need to be addressed once the commissioners decide how much to allocate to ABSS for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“And we would need to commit to finding [funds to support] some of these other priorities,” Ellington-Graves said later in the discussion.

Several board members remained unwilling this week to eliminate some of their other spending priorities, based on the discussion at the work session.

 

‘Summer freeze’ one option to fund other spending priorities

Interim ABSS superintendent Dr. James (“Jim”) Merrill told school board members Tuesday, “There’s a freeze on central office positions and there’s a freeze on select dollars right now,” which might offer some flexibility in funding the other spending priorities later.  “It does get you to be able to make a commitment to the trainers,” Merrill said.  “I think the freeze that’s in place right now does give you the ability.  We are looking to see if there are any positions that have not been filled for a year [to see if money designated for vacant positions could be reallocated]. I think the freeze during the course of the summer may be able to help you.”

“Does that mean those positions are not going to be hired until October?” Rose asked Merrill.

“Dr. Butler and i have not talked about his long-range plan for the freeze, so I don’t know,” the interim superintendent said.

“I would hate to see us have to draw back on [those funds] next year,” Gant responded.  “I would hope that if we are able to do these trainers, it would stay in the budget moving forward.  If we receive additional funding, whatever that is, I would hope the commissioners would understand that would be part of our continuation budget and they couldn’t draw back on it.”

“We just want to get the funding in place from the commissioners and then we would work with the municipalities to get those positions in place,” Ellington-Graves said of working with the police chiefs in Burlington, Graham, and Mebane to hire the additional SROs.  “It sounds like from Dr. Merrill’s comment we may be able to find the $250,000 to fund the athletic trainers.”

Bowden commented, “It’s hard for me to spend $52,000 [to hire an additional supervisor for the sheriff’s SROs] when we have holes in our municipalities,” referring to the 14 elementary schools that have part-time officers.

 “I don’t see where we can change much to draw down off of another line item,” Gant said.  “We as a board have to determine where the funds should be spent.”

“So,” Beam added, “in order for us to fund the SROs we would have to ask the commissioners to give us more money?”

“I think if we don’t make that ask, that’s a failed opportunity for us,” said Ellington-Graves.

Based on information provided for the school board’s discussion, funding for SROs in ABSS currently includes:

  • $264,866 in state at-risk allotment, which Teetor said is specifically designated for hiring an SRO in each high school, in keeping with a State Board of Education policy;
  • $99,999 from state grant;
  • $1.3 million in county funding.

School board members indicated this week that they’ll resume their discussion about how to use the county funding for ABSS at their next meeting in two weeks.

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