Commissioners Hear Budget Requests from Schools

June 8, 2016 Asheville , Leslee Kulba , News Stories 2046 Views
Commissioners Hear Budget Requests from Schools

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AB Tech’s President Dennis King led off. He reported on work done with the quarter-cent tax levied for capital projects. The Ferguson Allied Health Building, Mission-AB Tech Conference Center, and parking garage are now at least partially habitable. The parking garage was the most popular improvement. It bumped student feedback survey results up an entire 1 percent.

Philanthropic donations have helped considerablly. The Mission-AB Tech center, he noted, would be the first building on campus not named after a person or a plant. Mission gave the college $1 million payable over ten years for naming rights. To boot, the Ferguson family gave the college $5 million payable over five years for the Allied Health Building. The donation represented the largest single donation to a community college in national history.

In the interest of good stewardship, the college closed the Haynes Tower on the Enka campus due to underutilization. Moving classes elsewhere has saved the college about $500,000 in utility costs to date. The college has also eliminated 14 positions overall. It now payrolls only 416, and the college is saving another $500,000 annually.

The classroom building that was part of the same capital improvement plan, is now in the design stages. $5.4 million from the bond referendum will become available in August, and the college will use it to repair buildings on the Asheville and Madison County campuses.

King estimated AB Tech would need $6.3 million from the commissioners this year, compared to $6.0 million last year. Most of the extra money is needed for utilities in all the new square footage.

The commissioners asked King to elaborate on enrollment. He told how the state would be providing enrollment-based funding over the summer, so for the first time, it did not have to rely on surpluses from the other two semesters. King said graduation varied among fields of study. Lots of kids will jet into college transfer programs as soon as they get a high enough GPA. Some vocational students find they can get jobs after taking a single course. To “fix” that, the college is looking into creating certificates that require a few more classes.

Next up was Tony Baldwin, superintendent of Buncombe County Schools. He talked about decreasing state and federal funding. He described stimulus and stabilization funding from 2008 like all good Marines. It came in, got the job done, and left.

Baldwin said BCS have cut 167 positions in recent years. He thanked the commissioners for kicking in extra money to fund teaching assistants, but the county had had to cut back their hours. Commissioner Ellen Frost was incensed that teaching assistants were getting $11.60/hour plus a small local supplement, with the first opportunity for a raise coming along after fourteen years. It was appalling the county was not paying any of its employees a living wage. Mike Fryar pointed out they were at least getting healthcare and retirement benefits.

Increases in this year’s funding request included $1,549 for personnel and startup supplies at Enka Intermediate School and the Nesbitt Discovery Academy. Baldwin would also need $1,528,000 to compensate county-paid staff with raises commensurate with those to be paid state employees. He would further need $174,265 for increased benefits payouts and another $120,000 for Home Base. So, like AB Tech, he was asking for close to $3 million more this year.

But there was an addendum. The teachers would be all over his case if he did not lobby for supplemental pay to be brought up to that paid by neighboring districts. It seemed a longshot.

The big part of Baldwin’s talk was news on the aquatics center. Many swimmers were in the audience even though there would be no public hearing. Baldwin said he was not an expert on pools, so he was working with people from the YMCA who build public pools all the time. Everybody would like a more exotic facility, but right now, it is looking like the most affordable option would be to work with improving the existing pool at the Reuters YMCA at Biltmore Park.

Dr. Pam Baldwin from Asheville City Schools was the last to present. She was in the same basic predicaments as Baldwin as the state delayed finalizing its school appropriations.

One big challenge the city schools face is increasing population. Enrollment is on track to increase from 3695 in 2010 to a projected 4501 in 2017. The district therefore is needing six more elementary school teachers. Baldwin also wanted $200,391 to set up a day treatment mental health program and one teacher for gifted children. Baldwin projected she would need an additional $1,095,030 for personnel.

A problem that was not so much a problem was the city’s changing demographics. The district is actually losing money from the federal government because it has fewer at-risk students living in poverty.

The city schools would need capital for Isaac Dickson Elementary and Asheville Middle School. Both schools have been rebuilt and are slated to open in August. Other schools throughout the district are in need of general maintenance.

Baldwin said the city’s building in Montford, which is temporarily serving Isaac Dickson students, is going to be upfitted for an “exciting use.” She only divulged it had a temporary name of the Fusion Academy.

Particular attention was brought to the high school. It is an architectural gem, a historical landmark, and, as Baldwin said, “the envy of all.” However, it is suffering much water damage. Its gutters were designed to turn inside, and that decision has now taken its toll. Baldwin is working with the county’s facilities manager Greg Israel and other experts to develop a course of remediation.

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