The Alexander County Board of Commissioners, Alexander County Board of Education, and representatives from Catawba Valley Community College met in a joint session on Monday evening, October 9. During the three-hour meeting, officials mainly discussed the location of the Alexander Early College High School and future plans for the school, followed by discussion of Alexander County’s budget allocation for Alexander County Schools.Currently, the Alexander Early College High School has 151 freshmen and sophomores at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education and the CVCC Alexander Applied Technologies Center. It is anticipated that number will grow to approximately 294 as two more grades are added in the next two years, according to Alexander County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner.
Commissioner Ryan Mayberry explained that the Applied Technologies Center was never intended to house the early college, as it was to be used for workforce training such as the furniture academy, welding, metallurgy, and other areas of need. He said it took a collaborative effort and approximately eight years to get the Applied Technologies Center open.“It was not meant to be a place for the early college. It’s a place for economic development, continuing education, and training programs for our businesses,” Mayberry stated. “There needed to be a better plan on facilities and locating these students. I have no problem with the early college, but it isn’t where it should be. We need to slow down and find a place to put these students.”CVCC Vice President Dr. Keith Mackie said the college is certainly open to providing opportunities for the early college, but space is a concern as the program grows. He estimates the facility could only accommodate 50 more students next fall unless there is an expansion. It was noted that CVCC doesn’t have available funds for a new facility.
Everyone at the meeting agreed that the early college is a positive opportunity for Alexander County students and families, as graduates will earn a two-year degree while attending high school, which will alleviate some of the burden of college tuition.“We’ve already got the early college, and there seems to be a lot of interest. I think now what we have to do is get the number it’s going to be and back into how we deal with that on the facility side,” said Milton Campbell, Chairperson of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners. “Everybody in this room believes the early college is a good thing.” Campbell said the capacity at Alexander Central High School is approximately 1,650, and with students going to the early college, it could be only 70 percent utilized. He mentioned that ACHS is using a wing of the school for its freshman academy, and wondered if it would be possible to move the early college to a wing at the high school, which would allow those students to have access to band, chorus, gyms, and other amenities.
Board of Education Chairperson Caryn Brzykcy replied that is not the ideal model for an early college, but something that may need to be considered. She said perhaps the school system should get a short-term plan in place, while a long-term plan is developed to be presented to the County Commissioners.
The former Ellendale Elementary School and Wittenburg Elementary School locations were also mentioned as possibilities. There is also a 7,500 square foot building owned by the county that is adjacent to the CVCC Alexander Center, but it is estimated that it would only accommodate six classrooms and would require significant renovations.Brett Fansler, Executive Director of the CVCC Alexander Center for Education, noted that the welding program has also requested an additional classroom at the Applied Technologies Center, which may further impact space issues for the early college. There are also the Career & College Promise and the Cohort programs that are offered to ACHS juniors and seniors at the CVCC Center.
In the coming weeks and months, the Board of Education and school administration will work to determine the best plan for facility needs for the Alexander Early College High School.
County Allocation to Alexander County Schools
In addition to discussion of facility needs for the early college, the County Commissioners and Board of Education discussed the county’s local allocation to Alexander County Schools.Brzykcy started the discussion with a question about the $1.3 million the county has received as a result of NC General Statute 105-524, which pertains to distribution of additional sales tax revenue for economic development, public education, and community colleges.Alexander County Manager Rick French said that $400,000 of that money will go to the school system, with the remainder to be used for economic development projects and matching grants.
French said the county has so many financial obligations and needs, that it’s 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. French 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.
Commission Vice Chairperson Ronnie Reese said that county funding to the school system has increased over the past several years. Since the 2013-2014 budget year, the Alexander County Commissioners have increased funding to the schools by $1,031,900 for a total allocation of $6,031,900 in 2016-2017.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.