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School board votes 5-2 to use savings to finance $950K in extra expenses, projects

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Alamance-Burlington school board members have voted 5-2 to use fund balance (i.e., “rainy-day” savings) for several of their spending priorities that they weren’t able to fund with the $50.9 million that Alamance County ‘s commissioners have agreed to allocate to ABSS for the fiscal year that began Friday.

In order to put more dollars toward hiring additional school resource officers (SROs), school board members agreed last month to find look for other revenue sources to cover $950,000 for spending priorities that they had identified this spring.

Meanwhile, Alamance County’s commissioners agreed two weeks ago to tap into several available sources of revenue for the 2022-23 fiscal year to fund 14 additional SRO positions for ABSS so that every school would have full-time coverage.

School board members voted last week to use fund balance, if available, for the following expenditures: six new contract athletic trainers the high schools (estimated to cost $250,000); increase the teacher supplement by an additional ½ percent, to 1 percent (estimated at $600,000); and to increase the athletic coaching supplement by $225 each (estimated at $100,000).

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School board members generally agreed during their latest meeting that hiring athletic trainers should be a top priority.

“We have been promising trainers and have had to continually make some adjustments,” said school board member Allison Gant.

“With the changes that we’re making, in terms of expenditures, it will free up this money so that we can address these items,” school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson said last week in motioning to “use any excess funds” that weren’t spent during the 2021-22 fiscal year to fund those items. “I had talked to a couple of my fellow board members and [the chief budget officer]. It’s still bothering me that we cut the teacher supplement to ½ percent and the athletic trainers. I hate to say it, but it’s like a disaster waiting to hit us in the face. And the coaches’ supplement – it’s my understanding that they haven’t had an increase for about 20 years.”

For his part, school board member Ryan Bowden said he’d “received some phone calls about some headlines,” suggesting that ABSS had cut $250,000 for athletic trainers from its county budget request. “I think it’s important for the public to know [that’s still a priority]; I think there was some misunderstanding that we were cutting that,” he said last Monday night.

ABSS chief secondary officer Revonda Johnson said the discussion that the administration plans to start filling the athletic trainer positions in August, pending approval by the school board and availability of funding.

School board member Donna Westbrooks, who had lobbied this spring to set aside $691,000 to hire 18 new school media assistants, asked whether those new positions had been scrapped entirely. “That is just totally off the table now – nada?” asked Westbrooks, who joined last week’s school board meeting by phone. “That’s nowhere, not a part of our budget at all anymore?”

“At this particular moment,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves responded, “it is not.”

Outgoing ABSS chief budget officer Jeremy Teetor said during the discussion that funding to hire the six athletic trainers, boost the teacher supplement, and increase the athletic coaching supplement would come from “whatever our local budget variance is for the current year,” referring to any unspent county funding that ABSS might have when the 2021-22 fiscal year ended last Thursday, June 30. ABSS typically rolls over any unspent county funding into its fund balance within the general fund.

During a break in the meeting last Monday night, Teetor told an Alamance News reporter that he couldn’t estimate how much unspent county funding that the school system would end the fiscal year with on June 30, which also marked his day on the job at ABSS.

However, school board member Tony Rose balked at Simpson’s motion to use non-recurring revenue, in the form of fund balance or “rainy-day” savings, to pay for recurring annual expenses. “We’ve never done that before, so what happens next year?” Rose asked during the discussion. “What’s the plan for that?”

Simpson pressed her fellow board members to refrain from rolling any unspent revenue from the county into the school system’s fund balance for the 2022-23 fiscal year that began Friday.

“Hopefully we can find it [next year] and somebody can make a donation to the county commissioners and designate it for the school system,” Simpson told her fellow board members, referring to a “citizens’ voluntary fund” that the commissioners have created to accept voluntary contributions, earmarked for specific departments, from taxpayers who don’t want the 1-cent property tax cut the commissioners approved last month.

“Basically we’re intercepting dollars that would traditionally go to the fund balance,” said Dr. James (“Jim”) Merrill, whose tenure as the interim superintendent for ABSS ended Thursday, June 30, concurrent with the end of the fiscal year.

Voting in favor of Simpson’s motion to use any available fund balance to cover the new positions and supplement increases were: Simpson; Ellington-Graves; Bowden; Gant; and school board member Wayne Beam.

Voting against were Rose, who indicated that he disagreed with using one-time funding for recurring expenses; and Westbrooks, who had previously asked to include funding for the 18 new media assistants in the county budget request for ABSS.

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