6/17/16 County, ABSS reach compromise

County, ABSS reach compromise
About $800,000 more located for teacher supplements
By Anna Johnson, The Times-News 6/17/16  
Reprinted with permission.      

   GRAHAM — After a brief budget workshop Thursday, the Alamance County Board of Commissioners and Alamance-Burlington School System reached an agreement to provide the school system with even more funding in the coming fiscal year.

   ABSS was slated to receive $37.3 million — or a nearly $1.3 million increase from the current budget — in Alamance County Manager Craig Honeycutt’s proposed budget for the coming year. After the budget workshop, the system will now also receive approximately $800,000 more in funding for teacher supplements. Those funds will come from the county’s fund balance, including portions that were allocated for the county’s performance management program.

   “I’ve not heard a lot of issues from employees or departments or really outside agencies — the only issues that we have really heard have been about school funding,” Honeycutt said.

   Alamance County Commissioner Bob Byrd suggested the county look to its fund balance to possibly bridge the gap between what ABSS is expected to receive and what it wants.

   “I think our role as a governing body of our county is to build a strong community,” Byrd said. “A community that is safe and is prosperous and that is a great place to live and work and play. To build a strong community, as shown in our budget, there are a lot of services and programs and departments that we fund. … So think for a minute about education being the foundation for everything else. And for that foundation to be strong it needs resources.”

   Alamance County Commissioner David Smith said that he felt like using fund balance at the end of the year was similar to a tax increase and that it was “no secret” that the schools were not the main area of concern for him as a commissioner. His emphasis, he said, has been on public safety.

   “Unless our citizens are protected, schools don’t mean much at all, quite frankly,” Smith said. “And we are having problems with Alamance County with crime. The city of Burlington seems to be falling apart. If it isn’t one shooting everyday it’s one every week.”

   Throughout the decades, the county has always used its fund balance to shore up its budgets and typically had not spent any of the money appropriated because the county is either able to reduce spending or gain more revenues. However, Smith said, the county has typically only allocated a few million dollars from the fund balance and this year the county intended to allocate $5.2 million from it. That, he said, is his main concern about the budget for the coming fiscal year.

   He suggested that if the board wants to give more funding to the school system for teacher supplements, they pull the funds from the county’s performance management savings program.

   “We have to do the best we can,” Smith said. “That being said, I have always been in favor of classroom teachers and when I was manager we had a 6 percent teacher supplement. And we got it up to 8 percent. And my first two years I was on this board we got it up to 9 percent, and this past year I think it is up to 11 and I am with Bob to a certain extent. I can agree to raise the teacher supplement, and I would prefer it be classroom teachers but that may be impossible, maybe half a percentage point this year.”

   Between the performance management savings program and money “that can be found around the county” there should be enough money for the teacher supplements. Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison said the increase would go toward teacher supplements.

   The proposed budget was unveiled earlier this month. At that time, Harrison said he was very disappointed with the school’s allotment. They’d requested $40.2 million in the coming year.

   “I am disappointed and surprised,” Harrison said during the budget unveiling. “And I am surprised because we have had multiple conversations over the past couple of months about what this budget is going to look at. And this does not come anywhere close to what we talked about. So that really caught me off guard when I got the phone call on Friday afternoon and it really sends us back to the drawing board.”

   A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the historic courthouse.