Revised to reflect change in amount of funding needed to pay for the entire request.
If we’re going to talk football and local government spending then let’s call what happened Monday night at Williams High School what it really was. The Alamance County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to punt. Worse, the board voted to punt on third and long.
I raise a football analogy because County Commissioner Amy Galey did on her political Facebook page late Monday night. Galey was seen as a possible swing vote in the decision on whether to start funding and tacitly endorse the Alamance-Burlington School System’s Strategic Plan. She swung opposite to what education advocates in the community sought, a group that looks to have filled the large auditorium at Williams High School for a public hearing on the county’s 2017-18 budget. Based on video I’ve seen from the meeting and reports in the Times-News and social media, 40 people spoke in favor of fully funding the Strategic Plan, something that would provide new approaches in education in Alamance County rather than repeat what’s happening today and yesterday and the year before that and the decade before that and …
By all appearances the board waited for a parade of speakers to finish, took pretty much nothing said into consideration, and immediately approved the proposed budget with a $500,000 capital addition, in a split vote. Galey, who did recommend the $500,000 addition for building maintenance and repairs, joined commissioners Tim Sutton and Bill Lashley in supporting the county manager’s proposed $169 million budget with $41 million for schools. Galey and Commissioner Eddie Boswell were the wild cards. Galey campaigned as a supporter of education, which gave some hope. The votes by Sutton and Lashley surprised absolutely no one. They have voted this way for years and campaigned on their usual “The Future is Moot,” platform. Boswell and Commissioner Bob Byrd voted against the budget proposal, which keeps the tax rate at 58 cents per $100. Byrd endorsed the ABSS request in its entirety, $47 million for schools and a 4.5-cent tax increase. Boswell was more open to compromise and advance at least part of the Strategic Plan.
Sadly, there was no real discussion prior to the vote about that kind of compromise – something to get the strategic plan underway as devised – with maybe a 2 or 3-cent tax increase. The commissioners, after all, had a couple more weeks before the budget had to be adopted. There was certainly time for more research into what could be accomplished. As is often the case, the public hearing was not much more than a sham. Would at least pretending to consider another alternative have killed them?
So while school funding does grow over last year by 8.22 percent, it’s a budget that basically keeps up with the cost of living for ABSS, puts Band-Aids on gaping construction issues and offers zero hope for any of the foundational changes school officials wanted to make via the Strategic Plan. This budget only maintains the status quo with a little extra to grow on. Hardly visionary or transformational.
It’s a shame, predictable, but still a shame. I had hoped for some good-faith movement from the commissioners to boost our community’s efforts to chart a new course for education. We badly need it. Just recycling the same tepid and clearly stagnant initiatives over and over again is not a winning game plan.
Which brings us to Galey’s analogy. Here’s what she wrote on her Amy Galey for Alamance County Facebook page.
“I support public education. Our progress toward … world-class education is like moving a football down the field. The end zone is world-class education, and the goal post is the standards and targets that ABSS has committed to. Some people want to run a passing offense that covers a lot of ground in a small amount of time. Others want a running offense that steadily moves the chains one first down at a time. Both groups support public education. I believe that a steady and deliberate approach that moves down the field, getting first downs and moving the chains, is better for the community than long passes that can outrun the coverage. This is why I supported tonight a 8.22% increase in the school system’s budget that keeps the tax rate at .58. This is great progress in Alamance County and this is an excellent plan.”
Off the top, I’d like to get rid of the expression “world class education.” This isn’t Galey’s creation, it’s one from the school system and it’s way too vague. I would argue that the end zone is creating students who are better prepared to enter a quickly changing world and not only succeed but lead. We want contributing members of our community not people who drain resources. Education builds those leaders. In that regard, what the commissioners elected to do Monday night is only progress if you call treading water in an ocean of choppy water progress.
Anyway, I digress. Galey’s football comparison doesn’t really hold very much water at all. In fact, the water bucket has a hole in it. Her running offense that steadily moves the chains one first down at a time has been a declining football strategy for the past two decades. It’s a style of football that dominated in the 1960s and into the 1970s and maybe even the early ‘80s. Today successful teams built primarily on a dominant running game are like dinosaurs. It’s almost an anachronism. Pro and college football offenses had to innovate because the game evolved. The rules changed regarding pass coverage, players on defense got quicker and stronger. Players once assigned to play on offense suddenly found themselves on defense and coaches developed strategies to limit the effectiveness of running backs, injuries became a huge concern. Keeping offensive linemen and running backs healthy for a season became impossible. As a result, the strategy became one of passing first to hopefully open up lanes to run rather than the other way around.
Coaches who once called dive plays, off-tackle runs and the never-popular screen pass on third down gave way to innovators like Bill Walsh, architect of the West Coast Offense. Passing became the preferred method of moving the football down field with an occasional run mixed in. To one of Galey’s points, though, these new tacticians didn’t chuck long balls all game long either. I agree, that’s not a winning formula. The new breed of coaches used efficient, well-thought out pass routes designed to spring players for medium to long gains. Today far more passing plays are called in a game than running plays. It’s a game based on precision and timing as well as power. It’s complex game built to score and succeed rather than merely run out the clock.
Coaches changed. Players changed. The game changed. It’s the natural evolution of anything. We don’t exist in a vacuum.
Except here in Alamance County, apparently.
So now the school system is back on square one. It will need to find some innovative ways to reach the goals it has set to better educate kids in our community and hopefully fuel some greater success economically down the road in Alamance County. Leadership in the county years ago put the community where it is today – a place with stagnant growth and few opportunities.
Galey herself offered one idea. She mentioned a non-profit role in augmenting school funding. Many in the crowd at Williams took her remarks to mean finding thousands or even millions of dollars through kids selling chocolate bars door to door like traditional PTO fund-raisers. Believe me, I sold enough band candy in the 1970s to pay for new uniforms to know that won’t work. But that’s not what Galey meant anyway. She’s talking about a more focused non-profit effort. She advocated creating a new nonprofit, which is a pretty weird idea considering there are several in the community already trying to help children. I hardly think a new non-profit needs to be created with groups like United Way, Impact Alamance or the up-and-coming Alamance Achieves already in existence. The latter got its first executive director last week, former county and state teacher of the year Tyronna Hooker. That was a tremendous hire.
Either way, though, these agencies have a ton of irons on the fire already so the county abdicating its responsibility just places more strain on those organizations and other needs in the community the county forgot about years ago. Outside of corporate sponsorship or a school tax there are few other answers.
Since county government leaders seem stuck in their prehistoric ways, it’s up to the community to lead the kind of responsible evolution Alamance County needs.
Some things never change.