Sunday, July 14, 2024

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School system’s budgetary crisis continues to cast pall over county’s fiscal discussions

Alamance County’s commissioners were nothing if amicable on Monday as they were formally introduced to Ken Ingle, the newly-installed president of Alamance Community College.

The commissioners remained uniformly warm in their reception even as Ingle admitted that the community college is staring down a rather sizable hole in its budget due to increases in insurance and electrical costs.

“Currently, we’re short about $1 million on our budget need,” he warned the commissioners in reference to ACC’s spending plan for the current financial cycle, “and that’s something we would like to ask the county to help us with.”

ACC’s new president Dr. Ken Ingle

Ingle made this admission against the backdrop of an even grimmer financial crisis for the Alamance-Burlington school system, whose leaders have proposed cuts in both programs and personnel in order to plug a shortfall in their current budget that, at last count, amounted to about $3.2 million.

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Although this fiscal gulf wasn’t officially on the agenda when the commissioners convened Monday, it remained the three-million-pound gorilla in the room throughout much of the three-hour gathering.

Several people, including some candidates for the board of commissioners, reflected on the school system’s financial crisis during a public comment period that kicked off that evening’s proceedings. A number of these comments alluded to a recent school board meeting where the school system’s leaders deliberated how best to use a $250,000 lifeline that the commissioners had previously offered the schools on the condition they use the funds to avoid a layoff, or “reduction in force.”

Suggestions from the superintendent that the school board might put these funds toward utility bills, which have been blamed for much of the school system’s crisis, irked the likes of Henry Vines, a one-time candidate for the board of commissioners who found it galling that the county’s largesse “is going to a light bill.”

Meanwhile, Medora Burke-Scoll, a representative of the local teachers union, urged the commissioners to remain generous with the school system in its moment of need.

“ABSS is looking at a really tough choice right now – not make payroll, not pay our bills, or lay off some of the teachers we desperately need,” she told the county’s governing board. “Every one of these cuts is a person with a mortgage and a family who has chosen to go into education…and y’all are sitting on the biggest fund balance in the history of the county.”

The school system’s troubles even crept into the conversation among the commissioners. In fact, Ingle’s acknowledgement that ACC has been struggling with its electrical bills put commissioner Pam Thompson in mind of the parallel strain on the school system’s budget.

“When did you guys find out that Duke Power was going to sock it to you, too?” she ultimately inquired of the community college’s new president.

Thompson’s remark did not go unnoticed by Johnson Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.  Paisley, who like Thompson is up for reelection this year, used the opportunity to take a not-so-veiled swipe at the school system’s top brass, some of whom were in the audience that evening.

“We also appreciate that you having looked at your budget last year to include the increase in electricity, so you’re not coming to us today asking for a lifeline,” Paisley told Ingle, as he glossed over the fact that the commissioners had approved the school system’s $250,000 life preserver without waiting for a request from the school system.

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