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Supt. was poised to get OK for cutbacks from school board at Feb. 13 meeting

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While Alamance County’s commissioners agreed to give the Alamance-Burlington school system an additional $250,000 in order to stave off a potential reduction-in-force (RIF) for 54 positions, ABSS officials haven’t said how long that lifeline from the county will allow the school system to delay a potential RIF and/or elimination of several programs.

“We are still faced with rising utility costs, increased staff benefits, substitute costs, and operational costs, such as fluctuating insurance costs (workers comp, property insurance, student accident insurance), and some mileage reimbursement for activity buses due to state adjustments in rates,” school officials said Monday in thanking the commissioners for the temporary lifeline.

At the same time, school officials haven’t said they won’t cut the 54 positions or three specialty programs that ABSS superintendent Dr. Butler has said may be cut due to funding constraints.

The potential reductions – 54 positions and three specialty programs – would represent a total reduction of $5.9 million in state and county funding.  “This has, of course, been paused due to the assistance of the county commissioners,” school officials told The Alamance News Wednesday.

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According to a press release that ABSS sent out Friday night, at least three specialty programs could be on the chopping block: a Spanish immersion program known as “Splash,” offering dual-language instruction in Spanish and English (primarily for native-English speaking students) at six elementary schools that had been established around 2014; an A+ Arts program at several elementary schools that started around 2015; and the “Leader in Me,” a leadership program for elementary students that began around 2016.

“The board has not received a formal recommendation for a RIF,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves told The Alamance News Wednesday. “We do expect conversations about potential RIF plans moving forward.”

 

Splash program is state-funded; county funds two other elementary school specialty programs

“It is my understanding the administration is revisiting the recommendation about programming, particularly Splash,” Ellington-Graves said in an interview Wednesday.  “We have heard from many in the community that the Splash program is important, and I am hopeful that the recommendation brought to the board next week will reflect a way to keep that program in place.”

The Splash program currently costs ABSS $1.4 million to operate and is state-funded, the school board chairman said Wednesday.  The annual costs for Splash include 19 teaching positions, as well as instructional materials.

The Leader in Me program costs $63,300 to operate and is funded by the county current expense portion of the budget for ABSS; and the A+ Arts program costs $15,000 and is also county-funded, Ellington-Graves told the newspaper.

ABSS students typically enroll in the Splash program when they enter kindergarten and continue through the program until they finish the fifth grade, according to the school system.  The program is offered at the following elementary schools: Alexander Wilson; Eastlawn; Elon; E.M. Yoder; Smith; and South Graham.

Ellington-Graves confirmed for the newspaper Wednesday that there has been no discussion about the possibility of eliminating another specialty program, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is currently offered only at Williams High School, Ellington-Graves told the newspaper Wednesday.

“It is important to note,” the school board chairman emphasized, “that a formal recommendation has not been made.  It was expected next week.”

“The positions that were potentially going to be impacted by a RIF were notified personally of that potential,” Ellington-Graves said Wednesday.  “There were people notified that we were working on a recommendation, ‘and your position may be impacted.’  For some it was a reduction in pay, for some it was a potential [position elimination].”

The 54 positions that were listed for potential elimination (a RIF) and/or reduced months of employment in the Friday night press release are currently filled, the school board chairman confirmed for newspaper Wednesday, adding that ABSS currently has a total of 326 vacancies system-wide.

The 54 employees whose positions might be affected by a RIF or reduction in months of employment were not told their jobs were being eliminated, but were merely informed by the school system’s administration that their positions could be affected, Ellington-Graves said.

An ABSS policy that governs potential Reductions in Force states:  “If the board, after exploring, considering, and discussing a variety of ways to avoid a [RIF], determines that a [RIF]…is necessary, the superintendent shall recommend to the board which individuals are to be dismissed, demoted, or reduced to part-time employment.”

Ellington-Graves assured the newspaper that the school board’s attorney had sanctioned those initial discussions with individual employees whose positions may be affected.

The school board policy, which is in keeping with state law governing potential RIFs, outlines three potential grounds: a system-wide reorganization or curtailment of programs or operations; declining enrollment; or financial exigency.

The school board chairman said Wednesday that she and her fellow board members hope to learn over the coming days just how long the $250,000 additional funding from the county will sustain the three specialty programs and 54 positions that had been identified for a potential RIF and/or reduced months’ of employment.

Ellington-Graves repeatedly stressed that no formal recommendation has been made, and it’s still up to the school board to vote on whether to accept – or reject – any recommendation to cut programs or positions that Butler may present.  That discussion is expected to take place during the school board’s upcoming work session on Tuesday afternoon, she said.

The six nurses’ positions (five were listed as potential eliminations, and one, as reduced months of employment) referenced in the “Potential RIF Statement” ABSS issued Friday night appeared to have been the same six temporary positions that school board members had approved on September 27, 2021 – at the height of the Covid pandemic – and which were funded by a grant that expired in June 2022.

School officials were unable to definitively confirm this week whether the nurses listed for potential elimination or reduced months’ of employment were the same ones approved in September 2021.  Butler described those six nurses as “the most recent hires.”

Meanwhile, school officials said in a press release issued late Monday afternoon, after the commissioners’ voted to allocate $250,000 to ABSS to stave off a potential RIF, that an existing hiring freeze on all non-teaching positions will remain in place.

School board members are scheduled to meet this afternoon at the ABSS Central Office in Burlington with the county’s legislative delegation (state representatives Dennis Riddell and Steve Ross and state senator Amy Galey), and Alamance County’s commissioners.

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