County considers multimillion-dollar investment in early childhood education

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Of the estimated 11,646 children below the age of 4 in Buncombe County, only about a third are enrolled in licensed early childhood education programs.

Buncombe County commissioners want to narrow that gap; commissioners will decide during their regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30, whether to create a fund to boost access to early childhood education.

About $3.6 million would be set aside annually, beginning in the county’s fiscal year 2020 budget. The allotment would increase 2 percent every year thereafter.

The money would be used to remove barriers to enrolling kids in early education. Strategies include creating new preschool and pre-K classrooms, recruiting and retaining teachers, and providing support services for children and families enrolled in preschool and pre-K.

A subcommittee composed of three commissioners would seek public input and make policy and investment recommendations to the full Board of Commissioners, which would have the final say over all formal investments and policy decisions.

If approved, the funding would support a priority the board established last year to find ways to provide equal access to early childhood education for local children in their first 2,000 days of life.

Read the resolution here.

Reducing jail population

Commissioners will hear more about a $1.75 million grant Buncombe County has received from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to help reduce its jail population.

The Buncombe County Detention Facility can house up to 604 people in 13 housing units. The facility sets aside 96 of those beds for female inmates and 508 for male inmates.

In a county press release, board Chair Brownie Newman said the number of incarcerated women is increasing, while a large number of people cycle in and out of prison and minority populations experience disparities in incarceration rates and lengths of stay.

The county has also received an almost $550,000 grant to enhance its adult drug treatment court and veterans treatment court. The funding was awarded through a grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice that aims to implement and enhance these courts.

“These speciality courts must effectively integrate substance abuse treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives and transitional services in a judicial supervised court setting and target nonviolent offenders,” the county budget ordinance reads.

Read more about the MacArthur Foundation grant here and the Department of Justice grant here.

Personnel ordinance changes

To finalize a decision that could save about $370,000 a year, commissioners will hear public input on an amendment to Buncombe County’s personnel ordinance.

The change would cap the number of vacation hours that Buncombe County employees could sell back to the county per year. Unamended, the ordinance allows employees to sell a virtually unlimited number of hours.

Commissioners voted to set a 40-hour annual cap during their meeting on Oct. 16. The change to the ordinance would also require employees to keep at least 40 hours of vacation time in reserve before cashing out unused hours above that total.

According to a spreadsheet of annual leave sales provided by the county, Buncombe has spent about $13 million to buy back unused vacation time over the approximately 10-year period from the beginning of FY 2007 through March 31, 2018. That figure includes unused time the county is obligated to buy back when an employee leaves the county.

In a memo dated Oct. 23, interim County Manager George Wood suggested that commissioners make the effective date of the proposed changes Jan. 15.

Wood said this would give employees time to sell any banked unused leave and spread the sales out over two calendar years to minimize the impact on their income taxes.

Employees would be allowed to sell 40 hours in 2019 under the new policy even if they had already sold accumulated time before the new policy took effect.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, in the third floor conference room at 200 College St. Read the full agenda here.

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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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2 thoughts on “County considers multimillion-dollar investment in early childhood education

  1. Stuart

    Does this include the proposal to build a new Verner child development center on ABTech property? Land use that the college would generously donate to help offset the cost of this big community problem. Land use that the college could contribute after it shuddered a center formerly housed on its property and as the college has been vocal about its entitlement to receive more county funding for its own facilities through sales tax revenue.

  2. Jon Bon Jovi

    I like spending money I dont have either. See a penny spend a penny.

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