3/30/16 No effort to keep Harrison — yet

No effort to keep Harrison — yet
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 3/30/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

   There are definitely people interested in keeping Bill Harrison, 64, the superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System, but so far no serious effort to make it happen.

   “It’s been mentioned a couple of times, but no details or anything,” Steve Van Pelt, chair of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education, said Tuesday.

   Harrison’s contract goes through summer 2017, board member Tony Rose said, so there has not been any real board discussion, but Harrison has mentioned it, Van Pelt said.

   “I think he was just speculating out loud to see what my reaction would be,” Van Pelt said. “I hope my reaction was positive.”

   Van Pelt said Harrison’s current contract would end when the district was in the middle of major projects the superintendent is spearheading, like redistricting and, possibly, building new high and elementary schools, and he might want to see them through. He is also in the second year of implementing ABSS’s five-year strategic plan.

   There would be a couple of complicating factors, like pay. Harrison is the highest-paid district superintendent in North Carolina with a salary of $330,000. Of that, $85,000 came from private donations. Glen Raven gave ABSS $35,000, and Elon University and Impact Alamance, the grant-making arm of Alamance Regional Medical Center, gave $25,000 each when the board extended Harrison’s contract last year. It would be difficult for the district to come up with all of that on its own, Van Pelt said.

   “In general, speaking for myself, I’m quite interested in having him stay past 2017,” said Gerry Francis, a retired Elon vice president now “on loan” to ABSS representing it on the Joint Facilities Committee of ABSS and the Alamance County Board of Commissioners. “I’m sure if he’s going to stay, he’s going to stay at his current salary.”

   While speaking for himself Tuesday and mentioning no names, Francis has close relationships with a group of business leaders involved in local education issues and elections, including Elon President Leo Lambert, Allen Gant Jr., chairman and CEO of Glen Raven, and Tracey Grayzer, executive director of Impact Alamance.

   “There are others in the community who would be very pleased if he would stay on for a little longer,” Francis said. “I’ve talked to several folks about that.”

   Harrison couldn’t be reached for this article.

   Harrison was superintendent of Cumberland County Schools for 12 years and chair of the state Board of Education from 2009 to 2013. He came out of retirement to stay with ABSS after a year of service as interim superintendent. His substantial pay package makes up for the retirement income he is not currently taking.

   Van Pelt, Francis and many others say Harrison has formed strong relationships with the school board, county commissioners, parent groups, and the business and nonprofit community, making it possible to implement the first year of the district’s five-year strategic plan and take on very controversial issues like redistricting and building new schools.

   “I think Bill Harrison is doing a wonderful job, and for the long term, we have to have somebody of his abilities to make sure we are creating a school system that is exceptional,” Francis said. “That knowledge and those experiences would be very difficult to find, and it’s perfect for what we need at this time.”

   The complicated rules over state retirement also could complicate keeping Harrison at ABSS.

   “If that was something he could work out with the state, then I would not be opposed to him staying longer because he’s done a great job,” Rose said.