9/30/15 ABSS has to make up budget changes

ABSS has to make up budget changes
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 9/30/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   About two weeks after the state legislature approved its biannual budget — more than two months late — the Alamance-Burlington School System is still adapting.

   “Another budget that is not good,” Superintendent Bill Harrison said at Monday’s school board meeting. “Some folks might want to sell us that it’s good, but it’s not good.

   “We just hope they can wrap up business and get out of town before they can do any more harm.”

   Harrison was emphatic Tuesday that Alamance County’s legislative delegation had been good to work with and had heard out his concerns, but he said overall he was disappointed with the budget process and where it left school districts a month into the school year.

   “The teacher assistants have been salvaged, but they’ve limited flexibility on teacher assistants,” Harrison said Monday. “We have 44 teacher-assistant slots we’ve converted to teachers, so that means we have to come up with $1.3 million.”

   While ABSS administrators are working on a way to pay for those positions, Harrison said, it is taking a lot of time.

   School districts have been in limbo for much of the summer. The state provides the vast majority of public school funding in North Carolina, so legislators’ decisions affect a lot of details in schools. The state budget is supposed to be ready at the end of June, but the legislature gave itself multiple extensions.

   Funding for teacher assistants versus teachers to reduce class size was a difference between the state House and Senate budget proposals most of the summer.

   Members of the House, like Alamance County Republican Rep. Dennis Riddell, argued that the legislature should both pay for TAs and give districts flexibility on how to spend that money. Districts did not get that flexibility as they have in the past, Harrison said.

    Over several years, ABSS converted 44 teacher assistant positions to 22 teacher positions, according to ABSS.

   In the past, legislators have been critical of districts using teacher-assistant funding to hire classroom teachers. This year, those funds were restricted to one purpose. Harrison said restricting those funds in July would be fair, but not in September, after the district had already made its hiring decisions.

   “If we had known in July that we would not have had flexibility on those teacher-assistant positions, we could have dealt with it,” he said.

   Textbook funding did increase for ABSS by $322,000 this year to $660,000, or $29 per pupil, according to ABSS. Last year, ABSS bought math books for middle and high school teachers to keep in classrooms for $471,000.

   While the funding doubled, it is still well below where it was in 2008, when there was $67 per student for textbooks, Harrison said.

   “That is not something to celebrate,” Harrison said.