A pre-emptive strike in the school budget debate

Corrected on May 18 to change the proposed funding percentage for ABSS.

They came in a variety of shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicities. Some were parents, most were teachers or in education, a few were students and a few were business leaders who want to support a better community in Alamance County. At least one, Alamance-Burlington Board of Education member Patsy Simpson carried a small sign. The sign cracked me up, by the way.

Patsy simpson sutton sign

I saw this photo of ABSS Board of Education member Patsy Simpson posted by my friend and Times-News reporter Isaac Groves on Twitter last night and had to ask for a copy to use here. One it’s accurate but two it’s not really a point of view I endorse and actually led once several years ago to one of the worst arguments I ever had with my late friend and journalism colleague Jim Wicker. While I understand the sentiment — someone with real knowledge of tax burden should comprise the people voting for or against tax increases, I thought the idea of barring candidates who didn’t own real property from holding office  to be discriminatory and would eliminate millions of people in America from running. Wicker believed the opposite. Didn’t seem fair to me. But it is an ironic statement by Patsy Simpson and damn funny one.

First they filled the courtroom in the Alamance County Historic Courthouse and then folks were routed into the overflow room well before the meeting they came to attend was scheduled to begin. In all, 48 signed up to address the Alamance County Board of Commissioners, 20 managed to do so within the 60-minute time limit – which was doubled from 30 minutes due the large crowd.

For the commissioners it was a pretty routine agenda. One thing stood out – the unveiling the proposed county budget for 2017-18. Usually, this very general announcement is snooze material for the public. Only local government folks and newspapers hyperventilate about budget proposals at the “here it is” stage.

Monday was different. Monday was a pre-emptive move by people who support education in Alamance County, people who have learned that by the time the commissioners hold their public hearing on the budget on June 5 in the same Historic Courthouse, no amount of talking will likely change their minds. A year ago the night then-county manager Craig Honeycutt presented his budget for the first time it was before a bunch of empty seats.

“Crickets,” ABSS board member Brian Feeley recalled.

This time it wasn’t going to be that way as new county manager Brian Hagood rolled out his budget plan. Education supporters issued a call to all voices in support of more funding for the school system, which would propel the much-discussed strategic plan. Otherwise the plan, developed after months of talks and study by school leaders and community members, would likely wither and die as so many others have before it.

Hagood’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year – not to be confused with the “physical year” (malaprop that makes my flesh queasy) — totals $169 million at the moment and by state law  it has to be approved before July 1. Of that, the school system would get $41 million, $2.7 million more than last year but still far short of the $47 million it sought. The county budget would be fueled by 58-cent tax rate per $100 worth of property – the same as now but just above “revenue neutral” (57.4 cents) following the latest revaluation of real property in the county. Note of caution to people here, the fact that Alamance County’s property value remained relatively low or basically the same since the last reval is not a sign of a healthy local economy. It’s a signal that a community in stagnant or decline. In other words, going absolutely nowhere.

Many would say that over the last several years – probably stretching back to 9/11 or a little before, Alamance County has been treading water at best in almost every way. It certainly hasn’t moved forward much and in some ways has done the reverse. It’s not so much bad decision-making but limited thinking. Just saying “no” all the time isn’t really a policy at all and it eliminates judgment, study and, well decisions. The interesting statement Monday from fiscal hawk Tim Sutton is that he’s not “interested in my legacy.” That’s been obvious for years. It’s not his legacy that’s an issue, except in how it determines the legacy of Alamance County. That’s the legacy a true political leader might show interest in. It’s pretty self-centered – his “legacy?” Who gives one damn about Tim Sutton’s “legacy” when educating children and building qualify lives for the people who will live and work here for the next 50 years is being discussed? The truth is, both Tim and I will be worm food well before that.

It’s good to have it on record that Sutton is only interested in how things impact him personally – in case, you know, one or two people didn’t know it already.

I tend to believe Allen Gant, CEO of Glen Raven, Inc. knows far more about how the world works than Tim Sutton who hasn’t ventured outside of his bubble very much. “We have 22 job openings today. We can’t fill them because we can’t find the people we need,” Gant told the board during the public comments on Monday.

Telling. It’s a sure sign we have to develop students better equipped to deal with today’s job market – and do more to draw those kinds of jobs here. Alamance County is perfectly located – as it has always been historically. But it specializes in not helping itself enough.

Because I wasn’t able to attend the meeting on Monday I did follow reports on social media – on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Tang of Burlington had several posts on Facebook. He’s an editor at AOSN, a media website focusing on sports. He’s also a substitute teacher for ABSS. And for another take on the meeting, Dayson Pasion, a teacher at Graham Middle School, just started writing a blog again. Find it here.

Both posted throughout the meeting on social media. These were posted by Derek Tang.

… Chair of Alamance Chamber. Advocating for pro-business programs that benefit county. Sponsoring ABSS’ effort to create world-class system. Short and sweet, but ringing endorsement.

… Local realtor. Addressing impact of schools on home values in county. Visited schools around county and seen new technology and programs on offer. Great schools make people buy, creates better sense of community.

… HS teacher. Now is the time to get on board 100% with vision and strategic plan. Asking for reasonable amount to keep ABSS moving in the right direction. County is recovering from lack of facilities funding, disrespect from State legislature, decrease in per-pupil spending.

… ABSS Teacher of the Year Freebird McKinney. I believe in ABSS. Community planting rees that we will never know the full benefit of. Area higher education institutions partnering, and thus, ABSS needs more to sustain partnership. Invest now.

… parent of 2. Shocked at old and run-down facilities. Fundamental question: are we giving our children less? The answer has to be NO. The students and teachers do not deserve current conditions. ABSS request is bold.

Doug Hargrove now up. Talking about strengths of county. We’re a proud people, need school system to be proud of. Students need access to everything top systems have as a basic right. If we deny that, then what is our vision? Do we want to be short-sighted or visionary?

Now a look at how the commissioners closed. Some words from Amy Galey,  Bob Byrd, Eddie Boswell, and Tim Sutton. Commissioner Bill Lashley had no remarks.

Galey – awesome to see so many out. Lots of notes and things to think about. Reminder of June 5 public hearing.

Byrd – speakers were eloquent and complete. Visioning important. Visited schools. We have really good teachers. We don’t want to lose them like we’ve lost many already. We have more accountability than he can ever remember. With things like Alamance Achieves, county is pushing forward. Budget request targeted on strategies and goals – not a time to hold back. We (Commissioners) need to be leaders. Not sure what we can afford for school budget, but NEED to.Alamance tax rate 58 cents. 28th lowest in state. State median 67 cents. $60 increase on a $150k home. He’ll vote for it.

Sutton – instructing Byrd on tax valuation projection. He’s not worried about legacy. He’s appealing to fiscal responsibility as part of nationwide effort.

 

Boswell – Thanking board members. Has grandkids in system, appreciates their hard work. Heard from political strategist – what our future looks like depends on what we invest in it now. Will support it to the best of his ability.

It’s impossible to know if the speakers Monday night will make a difference in the long run. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not really for a 6-cent tax increase to fully fund everything the school system wants. But I would like to see a good faith effort toward advancing the strategic plan, which might call for a smaller tax increase. I’m also aware that other parts of the county budget need funding, too. The Health Department needs money. I’m on a committee devising a new strategic plan for the Alamance County Public Libraries and it will want more funding down the road. And county workers I’m sure want a raise, even if it’s a small one. I know I would in their shoes. The Sheriff’s Office always needs cars.

It’s a major list, one that is often ignored for too long — until things get serious.  The time for education is approaching serious.

As Boswell said a couple of weeks ago, someone is always disappointed by decisions the county commissioners make concerning the budget. People in favor of education at least got in their two-cents Monday — maybe a little more. Now they’ll gear up to do it all again for the public hearing on June 5. The signs are already up on social media.

blog schols hearing graphic

10 thoughts on “A pre-emptive strike in the school budget debate

  1. It will be interesting to see what happens on the 5th. Alamance County Public Libraries is trying to get people to understand the role it plays in the education of our citizens. When country departments’ budgets are cut it is extremely difficult to do our best for the people. While I’ve requested a slight increase in funds to purchase books, A-V, and electronic resources outta not nearly enough to address the demand. My request for additional staffing didn’t even make it into what was presented Monday. How long can we make it before we Havre to cut back on hours and/or programs and services if we don’t have the staff to manage?

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  2. Very good blog. The commissioners have too long neglected the schools and other departments of the county. As long as we can’t increase the value of the property in Alamance County there will not be a way to generate more tax revenues without a tax increase. The commissioners should be held responsible for the lack of development in the county. This means we are not moving forward but basically standing still.

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  3. I have read this several times, agree with previous comment that this is a pretty fair assessment of the situation. I would like to see a commitment for all elected officials to support a much needed bond issue for school construction. Madison, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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

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

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