Representatives from Catawba Valley Community College joined the Alexander County Commissioners and the Alexander County Board of Education in a meeting on Monday, October 9, to discuss the facility needs for Alexander Early College and also the local (Commission) allocation to Alexander County Schools.
Alexander Early College, housed at CVCC but considered a campus of Alexander County Schools, serves 151 students (freshmen and sophomores) currently, and the facility is near capacity as it is currently situated. However, the expected growth was to add about 100 freshmen students to the program each year, until AEC had a total of up to 400 students.
Portions of the AEC are held in the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (main building) and other portions are in the Applied Technology Center across the road. Both are located on Industrial Park Boulevard in Taylorsville and, together with a smaller third building and about 20 acres of land, made up the former Apparel Technologies property the Alexander County government purchased a few years ago.
The Applied Technology Center is home to the CVCC Alexander Furniture Academy and welding programs.
At Monday’s meeting, County Commissioner Josh Lail asked the CVCC representatives, Vice President of Instruction Dr. Keith Mackie, Alexander Center Executive Director Brett Fansler, and college trustees John Watts and Jeremy Fortner, if the college is comfortable with the anticipated numbers of Early College students. Dr. Mackie noted that CVCC is open to the opportunity to serve students at the Early College, but that space is a concern for additional students in the program.
Dr. Mackie mentioned that recently the AEC freshmen class entering in 2018-19 might be dropped to about 75.
Dr. Jennifer Hefner, Alexander County Schools Superintendent, interjected that “We heard you all loud and clear — slow down, a hundred a year is too many. Even though the interest has been there. We have also been surprised, pleasantly so, at the interest level. But we have been talking about reducing from 100 to 75, before I started playing with percentages of classes. Instead of a flat number, that’s where the percentage came in.”
Hefner was referring to figures in an answer document, in response to the 19 questions posed by Commissioners (see last week’s issue), indicating a suggested AEC growth objective of 17.5% of the school system’s freshman class per year. For 2018-19, this would equal 51 new AEC students. In 2019-20, it would be 71 more students, and the next year, 73 students. The document showed an expected AEC graduating class of 56 in 2020 and a total enrollment of 294 students in AEC that school year.
Another question which was fielded was by Dr. Jeff Peal, Commissioner, who asked about the method of choosing AEC students.
Dr. Hefner replied that a rubric is used similar to that used to admit students to the Challenger Early College in Hickory at CVCC’s Main Campus. Achievement, English as a Second Lanugage, minority status, whether a student’s parents are college graduates. Applicants are graded on a points system. (Hefner said the rumor in the community is that if a parent had graduated college, then the child was knocked out of AEC admittance. This is not true.)
Peal asked if the academic standards for AEC applicants were ensuring their success at AEC. Hefner replied that no AEC students have had to drop out of AEC and go back to Alexander Central High School due to academics.
Commission Vice-Chair Ronnie Reese asked if 51 new AEC students were added today, could CVCC accomodate them?
Fansler noted that the Applied Technologies building has Early College classes in the daytime and CVCC Alexander Center has other daytime programs, such as Career and College Promise, in addition to regular college courses like Phlebotomy and CNA, that cannot be changed.
It was indicated that Fire Marshal Russell Greene had figured the Alexander Center (main building) with a capacity of 400 people, but that would have to be achieved by pulling out all computer labs, CNA and Phlebotomy equipment, and only using rooms for classroom seating areas. The building has a capacity of 240 people as-is, with existing class equipment in place, said Dr. Hefner.
Another question was the possible designation of CVCC as a Multi-Campus Center by the State. Dr. Mackie noted the Multi-Campus designation is based on the number of student instructional hours and a minimum of 300 full-time equivalent (FTE) hours are needed, which CVCC expects to surpass this school year. If this designation is achieved, the college would receive added funds yearly from the State for hiring additional staff, increasing services to students (counselors, advisors, financial aid personnel), and other operating costs related to academics).
School Board member Harry Schrum noted that even though the Early College students are increasing CVCC’s FTE numbers, they still count for the Alexander County Schools ADM (average daily membership), which is important for school funding (roughly $5,700 per student in the county’s school system).
Commission Chairman Milton Campbell asked if students were being recruited to come back into the public schools.
Dr. Hefner replied that the school system is reaching out to recuit homeschool students back to public school, especially to inform them of the AEC and that they may apply for the early college.
Commissioner Ryan Mayberry asked if there is an agreement between Alexander County Schools and CVCC to locate the Early College at CVCC’s Alexander Center. Mackie replied there is not.
Mayberry noted that Alexander County Government owns the property the campus is housed on, and asked how the Early College location came about.
Dr. Hefner noted the initial agreement was in the grant application, which was signed by CVCC, the school board, and county commissioners.
Mayberry asked what was funded in the grant application. Hefner replied that in Year 1, nothing was funded; this year, $200,000 was funded.
“It went all the way to the General Assembly,” said Hefner. “We were given permission to open, but no funding followed that in Year 1.”
Mayberry noted that the facility is the big issue.
“We have CVCC campus that was used for continuing education and lots of other different types of programs. County Commissioners, along with CVCC, the school system, major businesses in Alexander County, our citizen input over a period of eight years — that’s about how long it took to get the Applied Technology Center up and going — and we do have training programs there. But it was not meant to be a place for the Early College,” Mayberry said. He related that it wasn’t presented to the public as an Early College when funding was being procured for it as the Applied Technologies Center.
“I’m not saying the Early College isn’t a good thing. It is a great thing. I’m all for it,” Mayberry added. “But there needed to be a better plan for facilities and locating students before we went headstrong into adding all these students.”
“We’ve done the best we could do, to scrape together space to put them in places where other things ought to be at,” Mayberry explained. “That’s the issue I have, and I’m ticked off about it.”
School Board Chair Caryn Brzykcy asked if Mayberry had objection to the numbers in Early College. He replied no, not if there was adequate physical space somewhere to house the anticipated students.
Campbell added that the larger freshman class admitted in 2017-18, of slightly over 100, had shocked some Commission members. He felt most had anticipated 70 or so to be admitted each year.
Fansler noted that the CVCC welding program has also requested an additional classroom at the Applied Technologies Center, which may further impact space issues for the early college.
Another question inquired about the effect the Early College drain on Alexander Central High School population would have, regarding Advanced Placement (AP) programs, underutilization of facility, electives, etc. Hefner noted the school board has never moved forward with anything with the intent to hurt any student. “It has only been to enhance and add to opportunities,” she stated.
Dr. Hefner explained that the system has added AP courses in recent years and this year at ACHS, and will bring back AP U.S. History next year and add Human Geography. Students can also take AP courses via the NC Virtual School if ACHS does not have sufficient enrollment.
The early college would also allow for more teaching positions, in a way.
Dr. Hefner outlined the teacher allotment is figured by the State by the number of children in a grade level. The high school is alloted certified positions (not including EC teachers) at a ratio of one adult per 15.07 students. This means when AEC is fully enrolled with 294 students, this would equal 19.5 positions. Eight of those positions would remain at AEC teaching primarily freshmen and sophomores. This would provide for an additional 11.5 positions to be used in the school system to supplement other academic areas.
The subject of Alexander County Schools student enrollment loss came up. It was noted that ACS had a net loss of 72 students last school year, for a $424,800 loss to ADM (per child) funding from the State.
It was indicated that 67 students left the system to be home schooled, 44 went away to private/Christian schools, 26 sought CVCC classes for Adult High School Diploma, and 13 went to a charter school. Some students entered the system, thus equalling a net loss of 72 students last year.
Chairman Brzykcy asked if CVCC can help with facilities costs. The answer came from CVCC reps that the college does not have any funds available for facility building.
Commissioner Lail said, as a parent of an AEC sophomore, that AEC students would like to have a facility that is “theirs.” He indicated the AEC students feel “displaced.”
“If we can build and pay for an auditorium, we can build and pay for an early college,” School Board member David Odom commented. “The auditorium is paid for. Your legal debt margin is good. Your fund balance is good…I think we sell ourselves short when we can ‘we can’t.’ I think we have to say, ‘we will.’”
Odom noted that schools boards could neither levy taxes nor borrow funds, but the County Commission can.
The possibility of obtaining mobile classrooms for Early College use surfaced. Odom commented that this was not ideal because 1) it is a band-aid solution and 2) it is a safety issue.
However, the answer document quoted Mr. Evans, AEC Principal, as saying, “The teachers and students in the Alexander Center feel that the classrooms are a bit small. The addition of modular units or an additional building would be welcomed by all.”
Also brought up was the issue of maintenance and custodial duties. The added stress of the AEC on the facility has underlined the need for a custodial and maintenance agreement among CVCC, Alexander County Schools, and the County. French said there were two agreements for facility use between Alexander County and CVCC: one for the Alexander Center and one for the Applied Technology Center. French said there is no agreement in writing about providing custodian, maintenance, or security. He added such an agreement would be helpful. Brzykcy suggest the two board chairs and CVCC enter into a Memorandum of Understanding on these issues.
Some discussion ensued on whether the Old Wittenburg School (now leased to County government for offices, but will soon be vacated) or the Old Ellendale School (then used as Head Start, but now vacant) could be used as the Early College site.
Schrum noted the Old Wittenburg School has lost its grandfathered status for being used for education space. It doesn’t meet current requirements for classroom size and other criteria. The school system has no immediate plans for the facility.
Old Wittenburg is also not centrally located, nor is Old Ellendale.
And Campbell asked, since ACHS is centrally located and designed for a 1,650 student capacity, but now only has 1,341 enrolled, could ACHS also house the Early College?
The reply from some at the table indicated the early college school model partially relies on “power of the site,” meaning the students achieve better results when an early college is located on a college campus.
Also mentioned was the small (third) Taylor Togs building at CVCC, which is currently being used by the County for storage. It is about 7,500 square feet, said County Manager Rick French. Fansler said some adult CVCC courses could be moved into that building, if it was upfitted into classrooms spaces. This would make room for more AEC classrooms in the Alexander Center (main building).
Another issue discussed was the School Board query regarding local funding from the County Commission to the school system.
The Commission funded the school system $5,000,000 in 2012-13, $5,250,000 in 2013-14 and also in 2014-15, $5,631,900 in 2015-16, $6,031,900 in 2016-17, and the same this year (2017-18). A total of $47,771 was paid for Early College with the ARC Equipment Grant ($100,000 grant plus a $100,000 local match).
Last year, the General Assembly approved additional sales taxes as part of the sales tax expansion. Alexander County will receive $1.3 million in the current fiscal year. This sales tax can only be expended in three areas, including education, community college, and economic development. The Alexander County Board of Commissioners approved $400,000 of the new sales tax for Alexander County Schools last year (2016-2017).
French said the county has so many financial obligations and needs, that it is difficult to provide increased funding for schools. He said that he believes economic development is the key, as the county is trying to build for the future.
The county manager cited projects such as the Shurtape sewer expansion, sewer pump station at the Alexander Industrial Park, Community One Bank project for county offices, Bethlehem sewer expansion, water line expansion, as well as many other departmental needs.
Mayberry said that nine of 15 questions sent to the Board of Commissioners by the Board of Education were budget related. He believes the county needs a funding formula to help determine annual local funding for the school system. Campbell said the process for the funding formula began last year, but wasn’t completed.
Dr. Hefner said that the school system is doing everything they can to save money. “If we go any leaner, it will impact student achievement,” she said.
Brzykcy asked how the Board of Education can assist the county with economic development. “We really do want to work together,” she stated.
“We’ve got to look at what’s best for the kids, and what’s best for the citizens and taxpayers,” Reese said.
Campbell said a timeline needs to be set to get the funding formula in place. Commissioners Campbell and Mayberry will work with Board of Education members Caryn Brzykcy and David Odom to develop the funding formula.
No date for a follow-up meeting was set before the three hour session ended Monday, but members expressed thanks for holding the gathering and for civil discussion of the issues at hand.
Special online supplements
Linked below are the lists of both boards’ questions, referred to in the article above.
Click here to read the “Questions for County Commissioners from School Board” document
Note: the questions posed to County Commissioners by the School Board and CVCC (above link) were not answered in a document, but were instead discussed at the Oct. 9 meeting.