2/13/19 ABSS finds $4.6M for 2019–2020

ABSS finds $4.6M for 2019–2020
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 2/13/19    
Reprinted with permission.
The Alamance-Burlington School System will ask for an additional $679,689 at this year’s county budget meeting.

That number may look shockingly low, especially considering the district asked for an additional $4 million from the county in 2018 and an additional $8.7 million in 2017.

But something changed this year.

Through cuts and the redirection of funds, ABSS Central Office staff have freed up roughly $4.6 million to cover costs.

At the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Feb. 12, Superintendent Bruce Benson explained how he plans to allocate those funds, and where exactly they came from.

What will the dollars

Broken down, the $4.6 million will be used to fund:

• Continuation budget: $2.9 million

Inflation and state mandates cause the cost of operations to go up each year. To continue operating as is, the school system will need an additional $2.9 million.

• Expansion budget: $1.1 million

Benson unveiled a plan to increase the salary for classified employees, hire a number of new positions, update technology at Central Office, and establish a Principal and Assistant Principal Leadership Academy.

• Local teacher supplement: $283,000

The local teacher supplement will increase by 0.25 percent across all experience levels. For example, the current rate for teachers with 11 or more years of experience is 11.5 percent. That will increase to 11.75 percent.

• School Resource Officers: $80,000

The school system will hire two additional SROs to rotate among Altamahaw-Ossipee, Pleasant Grove, Jordan and Sylvan elementary schools by rearranging state funds to free up $80,000.

• Chromebooks: $250,000

The district also will be able to lease an additional 4,000 Chromebooks — for a total of $250,000 — by reorganizing state funds in that category.

Where are the dollars
coming from?

The local teacher supplement will come from the fund balance, and both the SRO positions and Chromebook purchases are being funded by the redirection of state funds.

The continuation budget and expansion budget — a combined $4 million — will be funded by cuts in:

• Academic coaches

By cutting the 34 academic coach positions throughout the district, ABSS will save $2.7 million. Benson plans to ask these employees to reapply to ABSS to become classroom teachers — an area in which there is currently a huge shortage of qualified candidates.

• Teaching positions

ABSS will receive 14 additional state-funded teaching positions this year and eliminate six teaching positions that are not needed to satisfy teacher-student ratios. Combined, the extra funding and cuts will free up $1.1 million.

• Central Office spending

ABSS Chief Finance Officer Jeremy Teetor and staff have freed up $170,000 in funds by making changes to workers’ compensation premiums and the management of short term cash flow.

Benson cut an additional $30,000 from his own department’s budget to make the savings an even $2 million. He told the board the funds were being used to “join various consortiums within North Carolina and beyond” and that he felt they would be better spent on academics.

Why is ABSS asking for an additional $679,689?

The county is responsible for funding capital improvement for the school system — otherwise known as school construction and the maintenance of facilities.

For the past two years, the county commissioners have approved $1 million for capital improvement. This year, Benson is asking that they approve $1,679,689.

Combined with funds from the state lottery, that would give the school system roughly $3.3 million for facilities in 2019–2020. The funding would go to the roughly 25 schools not touched by the school system’s $150 million bond issue, which passed in November.

The board responds

Board members — many of whom are battle-weary from years of fighting the commissioners for more money — applauded Benson.

Patsy Simpson and Tony Rose were particularly thrilled that he cut his own department’s budget for the good of the system.

“Bless you for being honest with some of that and for wanting to also pitch in to help us in these efforts to reduce expenses. I applaud you for that,” Simpson said.

However, board members also emphasized repeatedly that this is a one-time thing.

“This year alone we are not asking for any expansion budget. We are holding our line,” board Chair Allison Gant said. “I just want to make sure everyone understands that this is a one-year [deal] on that piece of it, that we can’t do this every year. Finding $4 million in the budget has been amazing, to redirect funds that are going to support students.”

Board member Brian Feeley added that, with the recent passing of the $150 million bond, this was not the year for a large budget request.

“This is not us saying, ‘We have all the money we need,’” Feeley added. “We have tremendous needs in this system that need funding, but we’re saying that, at this moment in time, with the historic investment that our community made in our facilities and the continuous battles that are perceived in budget cycles, that that’s not needed.”

There will be a public hearing on the budget proposal at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 in the auditorium at 1712 Vaughn Road, Burlington, a half-hour before the regular board meeting.

View the Superintendent's 2019-20 Proposed Budget and Budget Presentation.