The debate to advance the ABSS strategic plan, even a little bit, will be a hot one

A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from Alamance County Commissioner Amy Galey. She wanted to talk about something written on this site a couple of weeks ago, “In need of education about following a strategic plan.” The call was a first since I moved from newspapers to higher education but not unwelcome. And Amy, just elected to the board in November, didn’t buzz me to complain about what I wrote about the county and funding for public schools. She simply wanted me to understand her point of view.

A very reasonable request and I was glad to listen.

My post was in response to concerns Galey expressed during a preliminary budget meeting with Alamance-Burlington School System Superintendent William Harrison. She grilled Harrison hard about the ABSS Board of Education’s funding request, a figure that would necessitate a tax increase roughly estimated at 6 cents per $100 worth of property. The budget request, $47 million, would help fund a strategic plan put in place a few years ago with an overall goal of making ABSS students competitive with others in the state and nation. The goals are lofty and come with a price tag. Quality education, just like good mental and physical health care costs money folks. That’s how it is.

Galey strongly stated her views on the spending plan and the need for ABSS to provide some kind of accountability in the form of measurable goals related to the strategic plan before she would consider more funding — and a tax increase that high was out of the question for her. As I mentioned in the post, the call for accountability is not an unreasonable request. But I also noted that following a strategic plan is important if any entity is going to succeed in making improvements or growing. Everything from major corporations to public and private universities and local governments develop strategic plans. The problems usually come when those plans are scuttled by politics, indifference or ignorance. If something isn’t working very well then staying the course makes almost zero sense. This is where we are in public education today.

Galey understood my point, too. She also felt her comments were misunderstood by members of the ABSS Board of Education who had previously seen her as a friend to education. She believes she still is and her call for accountability is not that new. She also thought her opinions were not fairly characterized on social media by some board members who were very vocal in their criticism.

Galey attempted to make her message clear on Facebook, posting this on April 20: “The ‘benchmarks’ of the strategic plan are not linked to measurable outcomes,” she wrote. “The progress reports available on the ABSS website are not related back to specific action steps in the strategic plan. If the school board is so confident that fully funding the strategic plan is going to produce the outcome of world class education, then define ‘world class education,’ and set some goals/targets.”

In the full disclosure department, I’m never sure exactly what the designation “world class” means either — and not just applied to education.

On Thursday, Harrison supplied much of what Galey asked to see. He posted a chart online of goals and measurements for the next six years on the ABSS website. The goals are tied to the strategic plan, something developed by educators and the public after a series of meetings. I would encourage people to read it closely. It does offer an outline of goals and what the hoped for outcomes would be. Note my use of the words “hoped for.” These aren’t promises, but most certainly a measurement. No one can predict the outcome of any new directive or action. Local governments – or any organization for that matter – can never predict the variables that might impact what happens down the road. New ideas sometimes work perfectly. Occasionally they go sideways. No matter how hard people try, things just flat don’t work as hoped. This is why more money isn’t always the answer. But no money ain’t much of a solution either.

Blog school funding

Hope it’s OK to steal this particular toon. Our kids aren’t cattle but the analogy isn’t that faulty.

On the other hand,  we’ll never know what good or extraordinary things might occur unless new ideas are put in place on the promise of faith in a desired outcome.

Galey told Burlington Times-News reporter Jessica Williams, “I’m delighted that ABSS has put measurable goals with targets in a place that the public can see on their website. I think it’s awesome that we have accountability from the school system, and I think it takes a lot of courage for the school system to commit to things like that. This is something done by bigger counties, but I don’t even think Orange or Guilford has done this with representing how they’re spending the taxpayers’ money.”

She’s still resistant to a tax increase in a tax reval year and two other members of the five-member board are hesitant to increase taxes any time – sometimes to the detriment of the county as a whole. No one wants a higher tax bill. I certainly don’t. But I also recognize that without improving education the county could short itself in terms of good jobs down the road and a stronger tax base. An educated community is a better one. The cynic in me wonders if some elected leaders willfully lag in the area of education spending precisely because they fear a better educated group of voters. And some are plain resistant to change of any kind.

I think most would acknowledge the school budget as proposed with a 6-cent tax increase is probably too hefty for this community. But a modest tax increase should certainly be on the table for discussion with the goal set on funding a good portion of the strategic plan. There has to be a point of compromise to keep the strategic plan moving in a positive direction.

Even a compromise won’t come without some argument, which is as it should be. One thing that has surprised Galey during her short time on the board is how vociferous politics can get, especially when it comes to taxes. She was stung by criticism of her vote on funding for the PART bus system in Alamance County. I would expect her to weigh any spending decision very carefully from this point forward. I don’t blame her. Important decisions take measured consideration.

People interested in public education are mounting a challenge of their own. I thought they might. After all, the ABSS board first looked over an austere school budget proposal from Harrison and sent it back for more requests that were in line with the strategic plan. They intend to try and follow it and ask for the money to do so. I’m glad they’re making a stand. When the history of this community is written one day it will note whether public leaders took action or stood down.

It appears for now to be the former and I’m glad to see it. ABSS Board of Education Chairman Steve Van Pelt on Facebook made a call for people in the community who support schools to attend a hearing on the county budget Monday. New County Manager Brian Hagood will make his first budget presentation to the commissioners. Here’s what Van Pelt had to say.

Our public school children need our help! The Alamance County Commissioners will be voting soon on the Alamance-Burlington School Systems proposed budget. The commissioners are inclined not to fully fund the budget nor to increase it at all despite increased costs to ABSS in salaries and benefits, and House Bill 13 which would decrease the state’s payment of 10 teachers in our system.

I am asking for a Call to Action that supports the ABSS Vision Plan and Strategic Plan to support children, to give them the education they need to be responsible citizens for tomorrow. Here are some things you can do…..

Attend the Commissioner’s meeting on Monday, May 15, 7 PM (124 West Elm Street, Graham). Commissioners will be hearing arguments for/against the budget. The more people, the greater the impact!

Speak at this meeting in support of the school’s budget proposal. To speak, you need to sign-up by 5:00 PM Monday. (this can be done on the commissioner’s website) https://www.alamance-nc.com/commissioners/

Bring a sign with you to the meeting that expresses your support. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, just that you support the schools!

Send an email to the commissioners or call, asking them to approve the budget. Contact info for the commissioners is on their website.https://www.alamance-nc.com/commissioners/

Attend the Commissioner’s meeting on Monday, June 5, 9 AM (same location). This is when they will vote on the budget. Be there!

I hope you will look at the budget and see where the monies would go. Our county has for years underbudgeted the school system while our neighbor counties have been increasing the support they give to the schools. That has to stop! Please help! (See the budget on the ABSS website under the Superintendent’s column.) or use this link: http://abss.schoolwires.net/…/1562/2017-18budgetpresentatio…

Thank you in advance for ACTING for our children, grandchildren, and neighbors. Spread the word, bring some friends. I will see you there Monday evening! And encourage friends to share this message on their Facebook page.

And on Friday faculty and staff at Elon University received an email from retired university administrator Gerry Francis, who ran for the Board of Education as a write-in candidate three years ago after leaving his Elon post as executive vice president. In retirement he remains a key figure at the university and is a longtime Burlington resident. The email was co-signed by Jon Dooley, who will be Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at the end of this academic year — any day now. He’s served as an administrator at Elon since 2014.

The email reads:

The superintendent of the Alamance Burlington School System (ABSS) recently presented an annual budget request to the County Board, calling for an increase to fund the Strategic Plan to improve our schools.  If the commissioners reject the request and go with a revenue-neutral budget – that is, no increase in funding for the schools – ABSS would be forced to make budget reductions in important areas to just meet state mandates and increases in fixed costs.  Many would suggest this a step backward for our schools and find it unacceptable.

We have been part of the Visioning Committee for the ABSS Strategic Plan and have seen substantial progress since the plan was implemented in 2014.  We hope you will let our commissioners know that public education is important and ask that they continue to support progress with ABSS.  Yes, this will cost more, but what a great investment – children and the future.

An individual can speak for up to three minutes at the beginning of the meeting.  Speakers must either sign up online by 5 p.m. Monday or on a sheet located at the entrance of the room prior to the meeting’s start at 7 pm.

Please consider getting involved by attending the meeting, and hopefully speaking.  Our commissioners want to hear from you.

I like the spirit expressed by both Van Pelt and Francis. I’m not exactly sure some of the commissioners want to hear from the public. In fact, I know a couple who don’t at all. But they really should.

But I think three are willing to at least listen to what all members of the public say — those in favor of supporting schools and those who wish for things to stay exactly as they are. I anticipate both will be passionate and vocal on Monday night. I would like to see an immense gathering of people there to take part in the process.

It’s one of those moments where the future of our community is up for grabs. Make the most of it.

7 thoughts on “The debate to advance the ABSS strategic plan, even a little bit, will be a hot one

  1. Pingback: a pre-emptive strike in the school budget debate | Madison's Avenue

  2. Pingback: Accepting Elon president’s final challenge to support education | Madison's Avenue

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  4. ABSS has been underfunded for many years. As a now retired teacher who taught in grades K-12 ABSS for over 30 years, I have observed the way the system works from the inside. I have to say that there are many people who are working tirelessly to ensure the success of the students, despite the fact that they often don’t have the supplies and equipment necessary to support their instruction.

    Therein lies the need for accountability. With the limited funding that the Alamance County Commissioners seem intent on providing, as they have always done in the past, it is imperative that ABSS is transparently accountable with the funding they are granted. Not only should the school system have goals and measurements for the Strategic Plan, but there should be accountability to the public for the use of all local, state and federal funds. For example, no off-the-shelf program should be implemented unless it is reviewed by a committee that includes representatives of the teachers who will be directly impacted by the new program. There should be solid scientifically verified data that a program will bring improved results before a substantial amount of money and time are spent on it.

    We need new buildings, more up-to-date technology, more books and more personnel to work directly with the students. We must be persistent in pursuing all these things and more for the children in our county. ABSS also must step up with ways to direct funding to the maximum benefit of the students. The board might want to look a little more closely at the expenditures and work with the school system to have the most efficient budget possible.

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  5. Pingback: Putting the education cards on the table | Madison's Avenue

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