Saturday, June 22, 2024

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School system turns in budget request too late

A choir of entreaties on behalf of the Alamance-Burlington school system came too late in the day to spare ABSS from a penalty that has befallen many a student who has neglected to turn in an assignment on time.

In the end, there was little the school system’s supporters could do to keep Alamance County’s manager from docking the schools for their tardy budget request when she presented her own financial recommendations to the county’s board of commissioners on Monday.

By the time the commissioners convened their latest regularly-scheduled meeting that evening, county manager Heidi York had already completed a proposed spending plan for the county in the absence of an up-to-date budget request from the school system. As York went on to explain when she presented her plan, the schools had failed to submit this request by the statutory deadline of May 15, which prompted her to recycle the allocation from 2023 as her latest recommendation to the commissioners.

[Story continues below photo.]

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Many audience members at the packed commissioners’ meeting sported color tee-shirts reflecting their allegiance with the advocacy group Down Home North Carolina (yellow and blue), while an even larger contingent sported the purple tees of the Alamance Virtual School – a pandemic-era creation that could be on the chopping block depending on how the school system’s next budget shakes out.

This year-old figure, which includes roughly $48.8 million for the school system’s operations and another $3.9 million for its capital needs, is nevertheless some $10.5 million shy of the combined sum of $63.2 million that ABSS currently hopes to receive from the county. Last week, the Alamance-Burlington school board called for an even greater allotment of $66.4 million, which would amount to an increase of about 27 percent over the county’s current contribution to ABSS.

York acknowledged that she had omitted these increases from her budget since the school system’s request didn’t reach her desk until 5:04 p.m. on Friday, May 17. Yet, this belated submission didn’t discourage public school boosters from descending on the commissioners en masse on Monday to lobby for a higher allotment.

Long before the doors to the county’s headquarters opened at 6:00 p.m., the school system’s supporters had already begun queuing outside in anticipation of Monday evening’s meeting. These eager audience members included many in t-shirts that touted the advocacy group Down Home North Carolina, while an even larger contingent sported the purple tees of the Alamance Virtual School – a pandemic-era creation that could be on the chopping block depending on how the school system’s next budget shakes out.

Members of these two blocs would go on to fill the county’s meeting chambers to their capacity, with dozens of others consigned to a nearby courtroom that the commissioners use as an overflow space. These education enthusiasts also comprised most of the 16 public speakers who took advantage of the designated public comment period that kicked off Monday’s proceedings.

The school system didn’t get much sympathy from public speaker Ed Priola, a Republican candidate for the board of commissioners who warned the board’s current membership of the “the board of education’s plan to slam taxpayer’s with a 27 percent increase in their budget.”

Republican county commissioner candidate Ed Priola was a lone voice against higher spending for the school system during Monday night’s meeting.

Yet, the vast majority of those who followed Priola to the podium were adamant that an increase of $10.3 million is the least that the school system should get in the county’s next annual budget.

Camille Mikkelsen

“We need to increase investment in our school system if we want Alamance County to thrive. No one is going to want to live here if we don’t fund schools appropriately.”

– Camille Mikkelsen

“We need to increase investment in our school system if we want Alamance County to thrive,” argued school system supporter Camille Mikkelsen. “No one is going to want to live here if we don’t fund schools appropriately.”

Elizabeth Lockley

“Until we can get the state to fund education to follow its mandates, I think the county needs to step up and pay $25 to $30 million [more].”

– Elizabeth Lockley

 

“Until we can get the state to fund education to follow its mandates,” added Elizabeth Lockley, the parent of several ABSS graduates, “I think the county needs to step up and pay $25 to $30 million [more].”

The speakers who spoke up on behalf of the school system also included a number of the county’s younger constituents.

Sawyer Jones, a sophomore at Williams High School, objected to “the chronic underfunding of our schools” when he got his allotted three minutes of time at the mike. Jones went on to press the commissioners to allocate enough revenue to retain the “graduation coaches” who are presently on the short list to be let go.

Williams High School sophomore Sawyer Jones

“Please find a way to increase the funding for the positions that are being cut. We lack support staff, suffer from high teacher turnover, and have insufficient academic support.”

– Williams High School sophomore Sawyer Jones

“Please find a way to increase the funding for the positions that are being cut,” Jones implored the county’s governing board. “We lack support staff, suffer from high teacher turnover, and have insufficient academic support.”

Ian Benjamin, a senior at Williams, also appealed to the commissioners to save his school’s full-time media specialist, whom he credited with much of his own academic success.

“Without Mr. Ringwald, I probably would not be graduating this year,” he added as he informed the county’s leaders of his long-term ambition to become a math teacher at his old high school in Burlington.

Meanwhile, Rameez Butt, another sophomore at Williams, recounted the efforts of a guidance counselor who had helped him to acclimate after he moved to Burlington from his native Algeria.

“Therefore,” he went on to ask the county’s governing board, “I urge you to increase funding for school counseling services.”

The commissioners also heard from a couple of other students from the school system’s virtual school, whose funds are already slated to be pared back in the school system’s budget request.

Lilith Stewart, a sixth grader at this relatively new institution, begged the commissioners to adopt a budget that will keep this program afloat.

ABSS sixth grade student Lilith Stewart

“I’m here to say that every decision made in this county has an impact on its future adults,” she added. “Our lives and education are in your hands now.”

– Sixth grader Lilith Stewart

“I’m here to say that every decision made in this county has an impact on its future adults,” she added. “Our lives and education are in your hands now.”

This outpouring of support for school system was admittedly too late to have any effect on the county manager’s budget. It also seemed to fall flat with John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, who insisted that there’s little he and his colleagues can do to address the school system’s own spending priorities.

Paisley went on to repeat an oft-stated mantra of his that ABSS is “sitting on” millions of dollars that the commissioners have previously set aside for its unmet needs.

“I’m tired to receiving blame for something that we can’t make happen,” the board’s chairman added.

Paisley’s cry into the night didn’t escape the notice of William Harrison, who recently took over as the school system’s interim superintendent.

“I don’t think that blame gets anybody anywhere,” Harrison went on to assure the county’s elected leaders, “and if something was messed up in getting the [school system’s] budget to Ms. York, I take full responsibility for that.”

 

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