Thursday, July 18, 2024

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School system leadership, not legislative report, is the real joke


It’s hard to know where to start this week with all the outrageous statements and actions by local politicians and bureaucrats.

However, it seems to us that the clear leader for arrogant, irresponsible – and, we might add, totally gratuitous, even superfluous – rhetoric has come from Dr. William Harrison, the interim superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System.

Dr. Harrison has gone out of his way to disparage the significance and impact of a state legislative commission’s report released last week which found that  – prior to his re-return as interim superintendent – the school system and school board had violated state laws and its own internal procedures.

They did so in the manner in which they approved no-bid contracts for mold removal and remediation throughout the school system last year. Almost $30 million in contracts were reviewed.

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Dr. Harrison wasn’t here when these problems occurred.

It wasn’t his fault.

All of the failures cited in the legislative report occurred under the tenure of his predecessor, Dr. Dain Butler.

So why he felt it necessary to display such petulance in criticizing  the report is beyond us.  He apparently just couldn’t resist the temptation to slam the report as a “joke” and a “waste of taxpayer money.”

He provided no substantive explanation for his diatribe, other than that he thought the legislative report was somehow intended to “help” the local school system, and he didn’t think it did.

State senator Amy Galey, who requested the investigation in February into the Alamance-Burlington school system’s policies and financial decisions,  was truly diplomatic in her response to Harrison’s tirade, which was a sideswipe at her for asking for such a report, as much as to the results of the report itself. She noted, “Dr. Harrison was not part of the ‘mold management melee’ between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners.”

‘Mold management melee’: an apt summary of last year’s debacle.

We’ve never been a fan of Dr. Harrison’s earlier tenure here – when he was the highest paid superintendent in the state.  Neither the county, its students, nor its teachers have anything to show, academically, for his time at the helm.  Schools were failing at the beginning of his tenure and they continued to perform poorly throughout his time here, even as his requests for more and more county funding reached new heights.

Of course, inasmuch as Harrison also consistently criticizes the idea of having the state evaluate academic performance, and identifying those schools that are consistently failing, it’s not too surprising that he wouldn’t like having his own failures evaluated in the process.

If there were ever a time that the county commissioners should have put the brakes on even more spending by such an irresponsible school administrator, it was this week, but they didn’t (see additional comments adjacent).

Instead, they gave him 60 percent of the increases he sought and raised property taxes on Alamance County property owners by another 1.66-cents in the process (on top of the 2-cents previously recommended by the county manager).

Not to be outdone, however, by the interim superintendent’s foolish response, ABSS board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves was a close runner-up in her equally ill-considered and misguided comments on the investigation’s conclusions.

Back in February, when she asked for the legislative probe to investigate the school system’s finances and decisions, senator Galey noted that doing so “will give ABSS an opportunity to demonstrate what it’s been doing and hopefully be vindicated, and then the community can move on.  But if there were things that were done that should not have been, the appropriate people can be held accountable – we can all learn from our mistakes.”

But apparently acknowledging and learning from mistakes is not in the skillset for local school officials.

Ellington-Graves personifies the old saying that “Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat them.”

One of the commission’s findings was that Ellington-Graves, as chairman, had improperly signed a dozen of the mold contracts before the school board as a whole had actually voted to approve them.

Even with the report’s admonishment, she told The Alamance News this week, that if she had to do it over again, she would, still, sign the contracts even without board approval.

There’s another old adage that describes that those who repeat the same mistakes, hoping for a different result, epitomize the very  definition of insanity.

That certainly seems to sum up the current leadership of the Alamance-Burlington school board and school administration.

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