6/19/12 Board OKs budget over ire of school partisans

Budget wars: Huge crowd shows up to protest spending plan
Darlene Sutton, a Mebane resident with three children in the public schools, speaks at the podium Monday evening during the public comment portion of the Alamance County Commissioners’ regular meeting at the Alamance County Courthouse. The crowd was so large that the county set up speakers outside for the overflow crowd.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

Darlene Sutton, a Mebane resident with three children in the public schools, speaks at the podium Monday evening during the public comment portion of the Alamance County Commissioners’ regular meeting at the Alamance County Courthouse. The crowd was so large that the county set up speakers outside for the overflow crowd.

Board OKs budget over ire of school partisans
ABSS subject to 7 percent cut
By Chris Lavender The Times-News 6/19/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   GRAHAM — The Alamance County Board of Commissioners approved a $122 million budget for fiscal 2012-13 on Monday which included no property tax increase and a 7 percent cut in local funding for schools and other outside agencies.

   Before the budget was approved, about 30 residents spoke during the meeting’s public comment period about the proposed budget.

   County Manager Craig Honeycutt’s first budget proposal on June 4 included a 2.5 cent increase in the property tax rate, from 52 to 54.5 cents, and a 2 percent pay raise for county employees. The county manager’s amended budget Monday cut both.

   The meeting was held at the Historic Courthouse in Graham. The Superior Courtroom’s floor level and balcony were filled, and at least 120 people assembled outside the courthouse to listen to the meeting through a sound system. The audience outside could be heard cheering for some of the speakers during the public comment period.

Darlene Sutton, a Mebane resident with three children in the public schools, speaks at the podium Monday evening during the public comment portion of the Alamance County Commissioners’ regular meeting at the Alamance County Courthouse. The crowd was so large that the county set up speakers outside for the overflow crowd.
At the county commissioners’ Monday meeting, the spillover crowd listens to the proceedings on speakers on the steps of the Historic Courthouse.

   Darlene Sutton, of Mebane, encouraged the commissioners to not cut local funding for Alamance-Burlington School System in 2012-13.

   “Please give our schools better funding,” Sutton said.

   Several of the speakers, including Dana Roseboro, of the Alamance-Burlington Association of Educators, and Tracey Grayzer, of Elon, said they wanted the commissioners to raise property taxes to avoid cuts in education funding.

   Comments also focused on the appearance of a lack of communication between the Alamance-Burlington School System Board of Education and the county commissioners during the recent budget discussions.

   Another speaker, Kimberly Martin, used a prop to get her point across that the commissioners should not cut local funding for schools because it could impact the performing arts.

   “Do you hear the music?” Martin asked the commissioners before playing a selection of classical music from a compact disc player performed by local students at a regional competition.

   Martin emphasized the need for the county to continue to fund education appropriately to allow ABSS students to take advantages of the school system’s performing arts.

   Christopher McRoy, of Mebane, also encouraged the commissioners to avoid cutting education funding too deep. McRoy said the proposed cuts placed ABSS at a competitive disadvantage.

   Eddie Shoe, of Mebane, questioned why the ABSS employees who were at the meeting Monday night decided not to attend the June 4 public hearing on the proposed 2012-13 budget. Shoe said he was concerned about ABSS Superintendent Lillie Cox’s use two weeks ago of the school system’s website and robo-calls for a budget advertisement campaign.

   Other speakers, including David Blair of Burlington, said the county’s funding of education drives economic development.

   Commissioner Eddie Boswell said those who spoke during the public comment period were two weeks too late and should have addressed the board June 4 during a public hearing for the proposed budget.

   Commissioner Tim Sutton said he was concerned that the county’s spending per pupil at ABSS had decreased by $200 during the past two years. Commissioner Linda Massey said that based on the Department of Public Instruction figures that Honeycutt presented, the school system would be able to meet its $171 million funding target for 2012-13.

   “They are going to get what they are asking for,” Massey said.

   Commissioner Tom Manning said 28 percent of the county’s overall funding for 2012-13 was for local education. Manning also said based on DPI figures that ABSS was not going to have to cut programs. Manning also said the commissioners and school board should work together during the next year to improve communication and work to develop a fund balance policy for the school system.

   During Manning’s comments, ABSS school board member Patsy Simpson began to speak from the audience, asking why Honeycutt didn’t provide the school system with all of the proposed budget information he presented to the commissioners Monday night.

   Simpson said Honeycutt could have showed all of the budget information he presented on the video screen to the school board members in advance and that a dialogue could have been established. Manning told Simpson she was out of line with her comments. Simpson then left the meeting and went outside.