Two weeks ago, when school board members first heard the ABSS administration’s proposal for an increase in local spending, school officials wanted just over $54 million, an almost $7 million increase over last year’s funding level of about $47 million, which originally amounted to a proposed 14 percent increase in local funding for the school system.
School board members instructed staff to go back to the drawing board and cut that increase in half.
Since then, the staff instead came up with ideas to cut the size of the increase to $4.78 million, about 60 percent of the original amount, rather than the half that was their target.
And this week, the staff brought back the options for a revised budget request, which was still more than some school board members were comfortable supporting.
Yet the only additional item cut from the proposed increases was $120,000 for a new system-wide safety director from their final county budget request.
So the final request to commissioners is $51.3 million, which is a 9.1 percent increase over current spending levels.
Alamance County’s commissioners allocated just over $47 million for the current fiscal year, including $43.2 million in current expense funding for daily operations; $3.3 million in capital funding (building repairs and maintenance); and $500,000 for nonrecurring expenses.
For the upcoming year, ABSS will ask the commissioners for $51.3 million, which includes: $48.1 million for current expenses and $3.3 million for capital funding.
School board members agreed two weeks ago to eliminate $660,000 for nonrecurring expenses originally included in the county budget request. That funding would’ve been used to install security cameras and electronic door access systems at Graham and Turrentine Middle schools; install a backup generator for the information technology server; and renovate a warehouse at central office.
Instead, ABSS will tap into its fund balance (“rainy-day” savings within the general fund) to cover those expenses, chief business officer Jeremy Teetor told school board members two weeks ago.
Board decides against further reduction in teacher supplement
Among the suggestions floated Monday night included: eliminating a line item to fund half the cost ($52,560) for a captain to oversee school resource officers that the sheriff’s department has requested; reducing an increase in the county-funded teacher supplement, from ½ of 1 percent to ¼ of 1 percent ($300,000); eliminating a system-wide school safety director position ($120,000); and cutting the number of new media technicians in half, from 18 new positions to nine.
More than an hour later, the only line item deleted from the final county budget request Monday night was the funding for a new system-wide school safety director.
School board members briefly discussed, but decided against, reducing a ½ percent increase in the county supplement for teachers to ¼ of a percent.
The school system’s administrators had proposed a 1 percent increase in the teacher supplement (at a cost of $1.2 million).
“Initially, our thought was to invest in our people,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said, referring to the apparent consensus during the board’s earlier discussions about the county budget request for the 2022-23 fiscal year. “We did give them that $3,000 bonus, but that is a one-time bonus,” she recalled Monday night, referring to an earlier decision by the board to use $10.5 million from part of the federal Covid-19 stimulus funding to pay most ABSS employees a $3,000 bonus with their December paychecks, in exchange for additional job duties they’ve assumed due to staffing shortages.
‘Entire school is a media center right now’
ABSS chief technology officer Dennis Frye told school board members Monday night that the 18 new media technicians are needed because of increased demand for help with technology devices.
“The media center and program is not located in one room of the building – the entire school is a media center right now,” Frye said. “At the same time, they are teaching literature appreciation, supplementing reading programs, teaching research. For them to see every student, they have no time in their day to do anything else. This [media technician] would support some technology for the entire schools.”
Frye recalled that, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, ABSS leased Chromebooks that students could check out and take home to do their schoolwork while schools were closed. “Some schools have Chromebooks dedicated to the school itself; they are not going back and forth [from school to home],” he said Monday night.
ABSS has a long-range a “1:1” device goal – meaning every student and employee would have a school-issued laptop – but that’s not fully funded, Frye said, adding that testing coordinators are “stretched thin [and] work is backing up.”
“It is to help teachers help students have access to resources throughout the day,” said Frye.
School board member Donna Westbrooks – who had previously asked for the media technicians to be moved from a list of “deferred” needs within the county budget request – wouldn’t budge this week. “One of the things with the media assistants is, they fly so low; they do assist the entire school with technology issues,” she said Monday night. “They still do an educational piece.” To have one person serving a school with 750 to 1,000 students is a lot of work, Westbrooks added.
“I just want us to balance this out,” school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson said, referring to numerous other funding requests the school board has received from staff and the administration.
Gant: Need for 18 new media technicians ‘popped to the top’
School board member Allison Gant said, “I hear exactly what you are saying about other needs; we don’t have a spot we can draw down from that we can support each and every request.” She indicated that, in talking to other school board members about the county budget request, this one “popped to the top.”
Gant said she supports keeping the $691,000 line item in the county budget request that would be used to hire 18 media technicians, “because I think this thing [her ABSS-issued laptop] gets a little whack-a-doodle, I have to find somebody. I think we’ve come up with a compromise, but I’m just one person.”
School board members subsequently voted 5-2 to submit the county budget request, “as is” but minus $120,000 for a safety director, to Alamance County’s commissioners, who are scheduled to begin their funding discussions in mid-April.
School board chairman Ellington-Graves and vice chairman Simpson voted against, saying they oppose reducing the county-funded supplement for teachers.
Voting in favor were: Wayne Beam; Ryan Bowden; Allison Gant; Tony Rose; and Donna Westbrooks.