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April 23, 2024

School system “town hall” information session held

Alexander County Board of Education Vice Chair Rob Arguelles (at podium) addresses the “town hall” information session group of parents at ACHS on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, explaining the school system’s budget woes and inviting parents to sign up for work sessions to offer possible solutions. Left to right, seated on stage: BOE members Matt Reese, Josh Dagenhart, and Brigette Rhyne, Chairman Ramie Robinson, Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner, and member Scott Bowman.

By MICAH HENRY

The Alexander County Board of Education hosted a community “town hall” information session and sign up time on Tuesday, October 3, at the Auditorium on the campus of Alexander Central High School. No public input was taken from the audience during the session.

Board Vice Chairman Rob Arguelles shared information about the current state of the budget for Alexander County Schools in a series of electronic slides. These may be viewed at https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/131XUV2mxwSyAvnjVWgEmqtzsgKRI61Cc/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=115818915485715150566&rtpof=true&sd=true.

A video of the presentation may be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/live/EAQX9se3SBc?si=u7iv-yXAsPhyGofB.

There are about 919 fewer students in public school this year than in 2013. North Carolina funds public schools about $6,000 per pupil enrolled, so that this resulted in $5,514,000 less in funding this year than in 2013.

Arguelles broke down the data further. He noted that student age population in Alexander County has shifted downward by more than 500 students in the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census data. Some school age groups are down about 20 percent in Alexander, while older people in the age 65+ groups have increased by 28 to 38 percent, depending on age group.

This shifting population age, combined with increased enrollment in private schools (from 9 students in 2013 to 328 in 2023) have meant funding has dropped significantly. Also, this past year, some 679 students were home schooled, 77 more than in 2013.

Current public school enrollment in Alexander is 4,291 or 4,448 including preschoolers. The school facilities have a capacity of educating 7,365 students, which means many schools are operating at or less than 50 percent full.

Correspondingly, ACS has eliminated 42 full-time positions since 2013. Funding Challenges for 2024-2025 are: loss of COVID legislation Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief ($2,769,182 with 40 positions potentially affected), loss of $786,000 in state enrollment funding, TA funds ($64,554), EC funds ($101,602), Low Wealth funds ($87,750), Vocational Ed enhancement funds ($9,430), salary and benefit increases ($65,025 obligation), and non-public school scholarships ($259,680 in Year 1).

The system has $1,905,388 left in its Fund Balance (similar to a savings account) but has no way to generate funds to replenish this account. It is not a taxing authority and relies on funds from County, State, and Federal government sources.

Arguelles said the Board and the community are tasked with finding about $1.5 million in savings soon.

Potential avenues brought up at earlier meetings were:

• Possibly consolidate classified positions at all schools, optimize music and media/arts positions.

• Switch to a four-day week for students (employees remain on a five-day week, school day would be 7 1/2 hours and include 30 minute lunch and 30 minute recess). A minimum 6 hours, 18 minutes instructional time is required in five-day weeks. Year-long total of 1,025 hours is required.

• Close schools (potential savings of $500,000 for operational costs such as lights and water.

• Sale of school properties, such as Old Wittenburg and Old Ellendale School.

He then invited those in the audience to sign up for constructive work sessions to be scheduled soon. About 170 people attended; 103 signed up for work sessions.

On October 6, everyone who signed up at Tuesday’s session will be sent a Doodle Poll (with response deadline of October 13) to input possible meeting times for additional work groups during the weeks of October 23-27 and November 6-10, on either Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday dates. Depending on the interest, the school leaders will choose one of two dates and possible locations.

Staff input will be included by October 30 during School Improvement Team meetings.

Input from all sources above will be compiled by December 12 and this will be communicated to the Board of Education and the community.

In January 2024, the school board’s Budget Committee will report to the board on a proposed action plan.

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