School board previews superintendent’s $57.7M county budget request

Alamance-Burlington school board members heard a preliminary county budget request that, if approved by Alamance County’s commissioners, would tack on an additional $6 million to the school system’s existing county budget, which is $52.1 million this year, for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.

The school system’s county budget request for the upcoming fiscal year could top $57.7 million, or about a 10.7 percent increase from the county’s current funding levels for ABSS.

For the current fiscal year, Alamance County’s commissioners allocated $48.8 million for current expenses and $3.3 million in capital funding for building repairs and maintenance, for a total of about $53 million, to ABSS.  (The commissioners’ initial budget allocation excluded the $27.2 million in capital reserves funding, bond funding, and lottery proceeds that they later authorized ABSS to draw from school system accounts to pay for $27.2 million in mold remediation expenses last fall.)

The preliminary county budget request for ABSS includes an additional $5.6 million for “continuation” expenses such as utilities – and a potential new spending item, ranging between $94,500 and $472,500, that would be used to provide a new county-funded pay supplement for 945 classified employees.

However, the bottom line in the county budget request that school board members heard Tuesday afternoon lacked several key items.

The $5.6 million total for “continuation” expenses – such as utilities and other recurring annual expenses not covered by state funding – omitted $3.3 million in annual county capital funding, which ABSS has received each fiscal year starting in 2019.

The school board’s newest member, Seneca Rogers, asked ABSS chief finance officer Kim McVey Tuesday afternoon why she had also neglected to include a state-mandated employers’ matching contribution for health insurance premiums that employees receive through the State Health Plan as part of their compensation and benefits.

“I can include a line item on that – thank you,” McVey responded.

The biggest-ticket increase within the school system’s preliminary county budget request is $2.3 million, apparently in addition to the $3.3 million budgeted for utilities this year, for what school officials described Tuesday as skyrocketing utility costs.

McVey recalled during the school board’s work session that ABSS had previously obtained an energy savings loan – known formally as a “guaranteed energy savings loan” and/or “performance contracting” – by which the school system borrowed against future energy savings to upgrade lighting and HVAC control systems intended to improve energy efficiency.

That $10.2 million loan requires ABSS to make quarterly installments of approximately $175,775 (though installment amounts will vary later) through May 30, 2034, under the terms of the loan from Bank of America.

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“It was supposed to be the trade-off of utility savings to pay for that loan,” McVey said.

“That has not happened,” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler added.

School board member Chuck Marsh floated the idea of finding some way to get out of that loan but ultimately failed to gain traction from his fellow school board members.

The second-largest potential increase within the county budget request, estimated at $1.3 million, would cover pay raises for those ABSS employees whose salaries aren’t state-funded.

The CFO included a note on that line item, stating “Legislated 5% ??” that apparently alluded to the two consecutive annual raises included in the General Assembly’s biennial budget.  Under the budget passed by the General Assembly in October 2023, all public school employees received a 4 percent raise this year and are to receive a 3 percent raise during the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The preliminary budget request for ABSS also includes:

  • $200,000 to provide a $5,000 raise for School Resource Officers;
  • $556,000 to provide a 1 percent “cost of living” increase for MFM Industries, an outside vendor that provides custodial services;
  • An estimated $691,500 that ABSS is required to share with the county’s four public charter schools for additional enrollment;
  • And $45,000 for “step increases,” or incremental increases in hourly pay rates for classified employees that have been phased in as part of a classified pay plan that ABSS implemented in early 2019.

During a brief discussion about the potential $5,000 raise for SROs, McVey explained Tuesday afternoon that ABSS currently has 40 school resource officers, which she said includes several SROs.

School board members had previously discussed hiring one “captain” to supervise the SROs in the spring of 2022, but neither that position nor the salaries for three apparently new supervisors had not been included in the county budget request for the current fiscal year or any other previous county budget request approved by the school board.

The board had discussed in early 2022 the the possibility of including $52,560 in their county budget request to hire an SRO “captain” but later abandoned that idea in order to fund full-time SROs at 14 schools that had part-time officers.  That shift followed the school shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022.  Alamance County’s commissioners agreed the following month, in June 2022, to tap several sources of revenue to fund the additional 14 SRO positions for ABSS.

In addition to the raises built into the “continuation” portion of the school system’s preliminary budget request, Butler has asked to establish a new supplement – ranging between $100 to $500 each – for 945 classified employees, such as bus drivers, mechanics, cafeteria workers, and other staff whose positions do not require state licensure.

Butler acknowledged that it was his idea to include a supplement for classified employees in the county budget request for this year.  “The board approved a $400 increase in the coaching supplement [and a 1 percent increase in the teacher supplement for this year],” he said Tuesday afternoon.  “That’s why I put the classified staff on the supplement for the budget this year.”

Rogers, the newest school board member, also asked the administration to consider a second bump in the supplement for athletic coaches, which was raised by $400 across-the-board this fiscal year but hadn’t been increased in two decades, based on information that school board members were given last spring.

The CFO indicated to the board that she would present a revised county budget request at their next meeting in two weeks.

School board members are currently scheduled to hold a public hearing on their county budget request immediately before their next meeting, at 6:00 p.m. on February 26, and possibly vote to approve it afterward, during their regularly-scheduled meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. that night.