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School system reduces its expectations for county cash as pandemic relief pours in

The annual budget requests from the Alamance-Burlington school system and Alamance Community College are always a learning experience for the county’s board of commissioners. But the board’s members were in for especially rigorous schooling on Wednesday when the two institutions presented their latest financial submissions during the opening hours of a two-day budget “retreat.”

County commissioner chairman John Paisley and Bill Lashley talked with ABSS assistant superintendent Todd Thorpe during the tour the commissioners took on March 31.

The spending requests that the commissioners ultimately received from ACC and the school system were complicated by a number of factors – namely the millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief that have poured into both institutions and the recent issuance of bond packages that area voters approved in 2018. Despite these massive financial infusions, both ACC and the school system are asking the county to increase their respective allocations, which were slashed from their anticipated levels last spring due to concerns about the potential financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the case of Alamance Community College, the board of commissioners has received a request for nearly $4.5 million, a jump of almost 20 percent over the roughly $3,750,000 that appeared in the county’s original budget for the current fiscal year.

The Alamance-Burlington school system has, likewise, asked the county to tack $1,460,000 onto its current allocation, which its superintendent had been scaled back by $460,000 from the previous year in the budget that the commissioners adopted last spring. Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood assured the commissioners that the school system didn’t arrive at this net increase of $1 million by mere happenstance.

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“A few years ago we were really struggling with starting the conversation about funding ABSS,” he told the county’s governing board. “So, as staff, we floated this idea that the school system can expect the commissioners to allocate 28 percent of the additional revenue from growth.”

Hagood added that this suggested formula generated the $1 million figure in the school system’s latest budget request.

The commissioners ultimately heard more about the particulars of this request from the school system’s finance director, Jeremy Teetor. Teetor assured the county’s governing board that he and his colleagues did a fair amount of revising and cutting before they turned in their proposed allocation to the county manger’s office.

“We’re really laser focused on trying to meet you halfway,” he told the county’s governing board. Teetor said that the school system has saved more than $2.5 million by cutting or “redirecting” 27 positions that “were not returning on investment.” The schools have also managed to pare back their worker comp expenses by $300,000; they’ve saved another $230,000 by bidding out services that were bankrolled by local funds, which carried no obligation to bid out the contract; and they have generated another $125,000 a year by investing cash that had been sitting idle.

The school system’s finance director also pointed to decreases in this year’s “continuation request” – a cost figure that purportedly reflects the amount necessary to maintain the existing programs and initiatives at area schools. Teetor noted that he and his colleagues revised this number down from $2.8 million to $1.1 million by eliminating $500,000 that had been earmarked to retain 9 school nurses and another $1.2 million for 12 “regional coaches,” who help teachers, particular first-year teachers, to learn the proverbial ropes.

Teetor conceded that the school system has been able to lower its request to the county thanks in large part to the revenue it expects to receive from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Congress approved in the spring of 2020.

“This year,” he told the commissioners,”we have come with a pretty conservative request which has really been pruned down because of the resources we know are available due to the CARES Act.”

Teetor noted that the schools have received $5,661,132 from the CARES Act’s initial allotment, which went toward things like nurses in every school and the aforementioned regional coaches. The schools received another $22,188,645 in the act’s second allocation – of which, $11,699,000 is earmarked for personnel to deal with fallout from the pandemic and another $4.5 million for technological upgrades. Meanwhile, ABSS has been allotted $49,650,514 in the act’s third installment, with nearly four fifths of this sum set aside for HVAC upgrades and window repairs.

The school system is nevertheless leaning on the county for $1,090,000 in funds to cover other items that aren’t eligible for federal pandemic relief. This sum includes $500,000 to recalculate the school system’s local teacher supplement so that teachers get credit for their full teaching careers rather than merely their consecutive years at ABSS; $260,000 for four additional school resource officers at schools in the sheriff’s jurisdiction; $240,000 for three mental health specialists, $50,000 for an additional enrollment and community specialist to orient students from other counties and $40,000 for a new Spanish-language translator. The school system’s existing translators are apparently hard pressed to deal with the wide variety of dialects they encounter.

In response to a question from commissioner Bill Lashley, Teetor discussed some preliminary inquires that the school system has made into the possibility of field medics for student athletes. Lashley recalled that when he played football at Williams High School many decades ago, he and his fellow team members were tended to by Dr. Charles Kernodle, a local surgeon who served as the Bulldogs’ team doctor well into his 90s. Teetor said that the school system has contacted several clinics about medical care for athletes and received quotes of $20,000 to $30,000 a year to provide athletic trainers for each high school.
“I think we’ll have it buttoned up by the end of the school year,” the school system’s finance director added.

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