Monday, February 6, 2023

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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School board, commissioners, state senator discuss education spending, priorities, wish lists

“What I need is more money.”

– ABSS Supt. Dr. Dain Butler

An annual get-together between the Alamance-Burlington school board and Alamance County’s commissioners ended in a general revolt against some of the state-level policies that these two local boards seem to blame for many of the school system’s current travails

From the reemployment restrictions on retired teachers to public education’s diminishing share of the proceeds from North Carolina’s state lottery, the meeting’s participants found no dearth of reasons to upbraid the state during their two-hour confab on Monday. Nor did they hesitate to share their concerns with state senator Amy Scott Galey – who, alone of the county’s three-member legislative delegation, had accepted the invite to attend the joint gathering.

This inclination to team up against the state is, in some ways, a fulfillment of the original purpose of these interjurisdictional meetings, which were first introduced years ago to improve the once-fractious relations between the school board and the county commissioners. This foundational objective even received a nod from the school system’s current superintendent Dain Butler, who he kicked off this year’s proceedings at the school system’s central office in Burlington.

“Our goal today is to show the collaboration between the county and the school system,” Butler explained by way of introduction that morning. “This is the first time we’ve had an opportunity to do this as your new superintendent and the new cabinet.”

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The lion’s share of Monday’s joint meeting was devoted to the school system’s own spending priorities – and, in particular, its plans for the funds that it receives directly from Alamance County’s government. Butler conceded that the county’s contribution is, strictly speaking, only obligated to cover the construction and maintenance of the school system’s facilities.

“I know that you guys are responsible for capital; I get that,” he assured the commissioners. “We’re not expecting anything more than that…My job is to make sure you’re aware of the needs other than capital to see if you’re willing to come to the table.”

Butler and his colleagues went on to describe a handful of non-capital items that they hope will secure the county’s financial support.

 

Hike in local supplement in the offing? County’s rank has slipped, supt. says; also requested: more money for coaches and resumed focus on hiring an athletic trainer for each high school

At the top of this list was a proposed hike in the local salary supplement that the Alamance-Burlington’s school system currently gives teachers in additional to their state subsidized wages. Butler told the commissioners that recent increases in other counties have caused Alamance-Burlington’s supplement to slip from 10th to 13th place in the state’s overall rankings. He added that an extra $500 per teacher would be enough to reclaim the school system’s slot – albeit at an overall cost of $1,180,100 a year to the county.

In addition to a higher supplement for teachers, Butler and his colleagues called for an increase in the seasonal stipend that the school system provides to its coaches as well as another look at entering into a private contract that would provide an athletic trainer for each of the system’s seven high schools.

 

A new ask: Multi-Language Center

But perhaps the school system’s most significant new gambit is a proposal for a new specialty school where foreign students could receive intensive English instruction alongside lessons in other core subjects in their primary languages.

Butler said that this provisionally dubbed “Multi-Language Center” could be set up within the former Sellars-Gunn school in order to serve many of the school system’s 2,800 students who have limited English proficiency. He added that the center wouldn’t accommodate all 81 of the languages that these students speak, although it would presumably feature instruction in Spanish as well as Arabic and Oromo – an East African tongue that’s prevalent among the county’s burgeoning refugee population.

“One of the big priorities for us is to get this off the ground because the research is showing our population is increasing and the funding is not keeping up,” he said. “If you speak no English you’re obviously behind and the students who do speak English are also getting behind.”

The plans for this multi-language center piqued a smattering of questions from the elected officials who were on hand for Monday’s joint meeting.

 

Galey defends state policies, including on retirees reentering workforce; gets earful from local officials

But this discussion was soon overshadowed by the aforementioned tumult over the state’s role in public education – which was touched off, somewhat ironically, by Galey’s preemptive efforts to address issues that she knew were on the minds of local officials.

As Monday’s proceedings drew to a close, the state senator spoke up on behalf of the county’s legislative delegation to assure their constituents that they were, in fact, doing their best to resolve thorny dilemmas – such as teacher recruitment and retention, to take one example.

Galey noted, on this score, that she and her colleagues have primarily been interested in ringing new college graduates into the fold rather than on reenlisting retirees – whose return to the classroom has been a focus for some local officials. The state senator also tried to justify the working-hour restrictions that presently prevent retired teachers from putting in more than 30 hours a week.  She argued that their potential return to a full-time schedule would allow these retirees to “double dip” in the state’s retirement system.

“That creates a real problem for planning and the long-term health of the retirement system,” she added.

[Story continues below collage of photos from the meeting.]


SOME OF THOSE AT MONDAY BREAKFAST MEETING AMONG SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS, COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, AND LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION (STATE SENATOR AMY SCOTT GALEY)

School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves and county commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.
School board member Charles Parker and state senator Amy Scott Galey.
Gathering before the meeting. school board members Ryan Bowden (seated), Dan Ingle (standing left), and Chuck Marsh (standing right) talked with state senator Amy Scott Galey (seated) and county commissioner Pam Thompson before the meeting got underway.
County commissioner Pam Thompson (left) with school board member Patsy Simpson.

Galey went on to address other controversial aspects of the state’s educational policies. She conceded, for instance, that the share of the state lottery’s proceeds which go to public education has fallen from 35 to 25 percent, although she insisted that the increased spending on lottery payouts and promotion has generated more revenue, in toto, notwithstanding the decreased percentage that goes to the schools. Galey also defended the state’s emphasis on the recruitment of teachers with BA degrees by citing studies that reportedly show no difference in student performance among teachers with advanced degrees.

Galey’s apparent diminishment of graduate degrees drew a stern retort from long-time school board member Patsy Simpson. Simpson also took issue with the state senator’s remarks about the potential return of retirees to full-time employment.

“If we bring back teachers and they are retired, they can double dip or collect two retirements,” she acknowledged. “But isn’t that the same if a retired senator retires from another job?”

Simpson’s appeal on behalf of retired teachers was later echoed by newly-elected school board member Dan Ingle. A retired police chief, one-time state legislator, and a former county commissioner, Ingle recalled that he heard several complaints about the work week restrictions on retired teachers while he was campaigning for his current position on the Alamance-Burlington school board.

Meanwhile, a personal plea against these same state-level limits came from John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners as well as the husband of a retired Alamance-Burlington teacher.

“By encouraging experienced teachers to leave and retire, you’re losing those experienced teachers. My wife retired after 42 years…because we were going to lose money on her continuing to teach…and the school system lost an experienced teacher.” – County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.

“By encouraging experienced teachers to leave and retire, you’re losing those experienced teachers,” Paisley lamented. “My wife retired after 42 years…because we were going to lose money on her continuing to teach…and the school system lost an experienced teacher.”

In the meantime, Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, compared the school system’s current reliance on supplements to recruit teachers with the veritable arms race that other local governments have engaged in with respect to police compensation.

“We have got to look at the state level at how we compensate people who are in the state system,” he declared.

Yet, in the end, the county’s salary supplement was one of two factors in teacher recruitment that the school system’s superintendent deemed to be genuinely within the control of local authorities.

“There are two things – money and culture – and I can handle the culture myself,” Butler went on to assure the county’s governing board. “What I need is more money…What can you do to help us that’s within your power? It’s the supplement.”

 

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