10/25/11 Deal to create school put on hold

Deal to create school put on hold
ABSS members want clarity on jointly operated institution
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 10/25/11     
Reprinted with permission.

   The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education delayed approval Monday night of an agreement with Elon University to create a new school.

   With the working name of University High School, the school would educate students in grades 9 through 12. Students would graduate with a high school diploma and as much as two years of college credit. Each grade would include about 30 students.

   During a lengthy discussion, board members asked questions about a legal document called a memorandum of understanding that would formalize plans for the high school.

   Board member Patsy Simpson said her concerns included lack of detail about admissions standards and the safety of high school students on a college campus.

   Simpson served on a feasibility committee made up of representatives of the school system and Elon to study the potential for the school. The committee’s recommendations included not only recruiting students with a record of high achievement but those believed to have potential. Simpson said she didn’t want to move away from the goal of having students representative of the system as a whole in the high school.

   Steve Van Pelt, the school board’s vice chairman, noted the agreement gives the school board final authority on admissions standards, even though it does not spell them out.

   “It does give us a great deal of authority,” he said. “We have the final say in that.”

   Simpson questioned the extent to which Elon employees would be subject to background checks in relation to the safety of University High School students.

   Simpson said she was concerned about language in the agreement that says background checks will not be required for university employees without regular interaction with students, “but who may inadvertently or incidentally interact with (those) students on campus, such as gym attendants or campus security guards.”

   Simpson said she feared that “puts the safety of our children at risk.”

   Gerald Francis, Elon’s executive vice president, said the university does background checks on its employees but does not do that in the case of non-employees on campus for duties such as construction or directing traffic.

   He acknowledged the examples of security guards and gym attendants may not have been the best choices to include in the proposed agreement.

   Simpson urged board members to delay a vote until they have more time to examine the agreement and get answers to questions.

   School board attorney Trey Allen urged the board to be cautious in some areas addressed by the agreement. He said the board needs to avoid jeopardizing its governmental immunity in complying with Elon’s request to purchase insurance in relation to the school.

   Van Pelt said he would be comfortable voting in favor of the agreement Monday night but said he had no problem with the delay. No board member objected to a delay. Board member Tony Rose did not participate in the discussion. He previously announced he would decline to be part of a discussion or to vote to avoid any appearance a conflict of interest, since he is an Elon employee.

   Francis said Elon’s board of trustees recently discussed the legal document, with some having similar questions. The trustees could vote on the proposed agreement during the next few weeks, he said.

   The board agreed to discuss the proposed agreement as part of a retreat meeting scheduled for Oct. 31. It meets again for a work session planned for Nov. 7, which could allow for action on the proposal.