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App State asked to plan for 'worst-case' 25-50 percent cuts
Faculty Senate present strategy

BOONE — Appalachian State University officials are reacting to a recent mandate from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to UNC system institutions that called for university chancellors to submit plans for “worst-case” 25-50 percent budget cuts.

App State Interim Provost Heather Norris explained to Faculty Senate members on July 20 that chancellors received the emailed directive from Board of Governors Chairman Randall Ramsey on July 14 as a “worst-case scenario planning exercise.” According to NC Policy Watch — a project of the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center — university officials were told to submit plans that were “very specific and include details of which programs will be shuttered, which positions will be furloughed, laid off or eliminated entirely” and other details of how the 25-50 percent spending reduction would be handled. The publication added that several UNC officials had been told they had to submit plans by July 24.

Policy Watch, which obtained a copy of Ramsey’s email, reported that it directed chancellors to submit a report on the financial impact of closing their campus and reducing tuition and room and board fees; a plan to reduce their budgets by 25-50 percent (to account for the reduced revenue resulting from reduced enrollment under various plans of closure); a projection of how the cancellation of fall athletics will affect their campus and specific plans for revenue shortfalls; and a General Administration analysis of the long-term impact on UNC institutions that have struggled financially.

Norris added that Chancellor Sheri Everts had a meeting with other UNC system chancellors on July 16, and Norris herself was part of a meeting among chief academic officers that same day. The discussion the chief academic officers had about Ramsey’s directive was “robust,” Norris said.

Norris was asked by faculty during the July 20 meeting if they would be able to see a list of employee positions or programs that would be proposed to be cut in the plans App State would submit to the Board of Governors.

“We don’t have a list and won’t have a list by Friday,” Norris said. “There’s not a list that we’ll be sending forward at this time. It’s just not that detailed at this point. We’ll involve the departments, the colleges and programs if we need to do that level of planning.”

Norris added that there is no certainty about where the university’s budget will land, as several factors are taken into consideration: potential drops in enrollment; reductions in state appropriations; loss of business, auxiliary and athletics revenue; and any other unanticipated expenses. App State’s enrollment is trending above what the the numbers were last year at this point, and the loss of business and auxiliary revenue depends on if the university is open and to what extent, according to Norris.

“While it is important to recognize these are planning exercises, I want to be clear that my leadership team and I meet regularly with the Faculty Senate Executive Team, and we will continue working collaboratively with Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and our Student Government Association to ensure they are engaged should we need to enact any of the possible financial scenarios,” Everts stated in a message to campus on July 18.

App State’s Faculty Senators have continued to advocate for a seat at the table while administrators make decisions regarding budgetary matters during the pandemic. Continuing in that spirit, the group voted to approve a report from the Faculty Senate Budget Committee that addressed the Board of Governors’ 25-50 percent reduction request. The report approaches both the 25 percent and the 50 percent “hurdles” requested, with sequential “gates” to accomplish the request within each hurdle.

When making the suggestions, the report states that the committee kept the following values in mind: students being the priority and keeping programmatic offerings and resources available to support their high-quality educational experience; aligning staffing with the temporary reality of being an online university; streamlining processes and structures to leverage them more effectively; and enhancing revenue.

“Fortunately there are members of our committee who have been thinking about this since the very beginning of the pandemic,” said Tanga Mohr, the committee’s chair and a professor in the Department of Economics. “There has been some very diligent thought going into this to think about how can we make recommendations to administration about potential budget cuts in a way that prioritizes the academic mission. When we are invited to the table, these are some of things we would advocate for.”

For the first gate for the 25 percent hurdle, the committee suggested the use of creativity and available “slack resources.” To do so, the report suggests tactics such as moving payroll by one day to save one-twelfth of a labor budget; using $70 million in an auxiliary fund; aggressively selling naming rights to campus properties; creating an ad hoc group to pursue pandemic-related recovery grants; finding innovative ways to more highly leverage system negotiated contracts for products and services; selling slack land and building assets and resources; and selling New River Light and Power.

The second gate for that hurdle had a suggestion of expanding freezes on discretionary budgets and expenditures such as freezing discretionary spending including all non-essential facilities and work requests, non-essential travel and non-essential hiring. This gate also called for the reduction of all operating budgets, and the freezing of all construction projects.

The third gate for the 25 percent reduction included the suggestion of tapping into organizational savings (including athletics) made available by being an all-online campus. This “gate” called for the consolidation and streamline of administrative/staff functions and positions to focus only on those essential to meet the needs of an all-online campus, which could include immediate temporary furloughs of non-essential university administration positions while partially furloughing all administrators and staff functions whose job duties are reduced proportionally. This gate would also include significant reductions in all non-academic positions. The fourth gate then suggested reducing the payroll through voluntary separations, and the implementation of voluntary retirement and separation bonuses and incentives.

The report’s plan for the 50 percent hurdle included a targeted consolidation of academic departments/functions/operations to leverage their administrative costs for the first gate and suspending or delaying off-campus scholarly assignments for the second gate. The third gate could include deploy graduated salary cuts across-the-board for faculty, staff and administration, according to the report. The third gate could mean a decrease of percentage cuts categorically from salaries that are $200,000 or more; $150,000-$200,000; $100,000-$150,000; $75,000-$100,000; and $50,000 to $75,000.

Budget Committee member Jim Westerman — a professor in the Department of Management — explained that the report was created with a strategy that each of these gates be fully implemented sequentially to the extent possible to address the Board of Governors’ request. He added that the hope is that both the 25 percent savings and the 50 percent savings scenario can be achieved through the first two gates, and that the latter suggestions would not need to be utilized or recommended in a response to the directive.

With 31 in favor, five opposed and five abstentions, the Faculty Senate voted to accept the report. Mohr explained that the report gives the committee a basis going forward with discussions with administrators.

The meeting ended with Faculty Senate entering executive session to discuss the results of a resolution passed during the group’s July 6 executive session. The resolution directed each senator to poll their department on the department’s confidence in the administration’s planning for fall 2020. The group’s July 20 executive session was to discuss the results of the department poll; Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent confirmed that there were no motions from that executive session.

Approximately one month ago, instructors at Appalachian State University created an online petition addressed to Everts and Norris — with 446 signature as of July 21. Some of the requests in the petition were similar to those of a Faculty Senate resolution passed at a June 22 meeting.

Requests included not requiring any instructor to teach in-person if they have any concerns for their personal health related to COVID-19 during the fall 2020 semester; not requiring any instructor to disclose the nature of their personal health concerns if they request to teach online; and allowing instructors the option to switch to fully online at any point in the semester if personal health concerns emerge related to COVID-19.

The petition further requested that those on campus should be required to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American College Health Association guidelines; the university develop and implement a program of regular COVID-19 testing for those physically present on campus; the request of daily updates on the status of campus virus transmission and quarantine status; and that the university communicate the aforementioned policies to faculty. The petition can be found at tinyurl.com/y55lcdz6.

More than 200 faculty members have signed a recent public letter pleading with the university community to “stay online and stay home.” Signatures from faculty can be found at tinyurl.com/FacultyLetterSignatures.

“We all look forward to a full return to campus, but the current environment does not allow this,” the letter stated. “We are aware of an economic impact of remaining online. We are aware of the much greater impact an outbreak in Boone would have. Some risks are worth taking. A full return of the student body in August is not one of those.”

Two other separate webpages with the letter were created — one for community signatures and another for students and staff who are not faculty members at App State. The community signatures page — with roughly 230 signatures as of July 21 — can be found at tinyurl.com/CommunitySignatures. The letter and signatures page for students and staff had 127 signatures as of July 21, and can be found at tinyurl.com/StaffStudentSignatures.


News
Parents contemplating in-person, at home schooling options for fall

Some parents are still on the fence and are continuing to weigh their options when it comes to in-person learning or instruction from home for the fall.

Gov. Roy Cooper made the announcement on July 14 that North Carolina public schools will be open for both in-person and remote learning in the fall under the state’s Plan B. For Watauga County Schools this means using a 2x3 flex-type schedule in which students will be in the school building for two days at school and three days of learning remotely. WCS stated that there is typically not a deadline for registration for enrollment for in-person learning.

WCS is also offering an all-remote option through the Watauga Virtual Academy “for every student possible,” said WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott. The virtual academy application process will be open from July 16-26. For more information on the virtual academy and to apply, visit www.wataugaschools.org/coronavirus.

“We really will not know until we see how many students apply for the virtual academy and whether or not we have enough teachers to match the grade levels and subjects to meet all the needs,” Elliott said.

Some parents have indicated that they may choose to transition their students into homeschool programs.

Emily Wilson said wrestling with the decision of whether or not to send her 15-year-old daughter back to Watauga High School for the fall has been the very definition of a dilemma. Wilson said she feels like there are still so many questions that are unanswered that she can’t make a firm decision yet, such as how teachers will be protected in the schools and what happens if those in the school need to quarantine.

“It’s such a complex situation that there really are no good choices,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to be possible for everyone to get the scenario that they’re most comfortable with. That’s the reality of the pandemic.”

Catharine Milner said she too feels that there isn’t a solution that is not stressful. She has a 7-year-old son with Autism who attends Hardin Park, and said most of the goals in his individual education plan are for his social wellbeing. She’s unsure how he’ll get the same social experiences while learning from home.

Milner mentioned how many parents were apprehensive about sending their children to school because of the mandated mask wearing by all K-12 students and all school personnel. She’s been trying to practice wearing a mask with her son, but said after a while he wants to touch the mask and play with it. Her son also enjoyed remote learning as he enjoyed the quiet while being at home.

Working from home while also trying to help a child learn from home can be difficult, Milner said. She added that sometimes remote learning could be frustrating because Zoom calls could be at inconvenient times, and parents tend to need to be with the younger children while using Zoom with their teachers. Milner works as a preschool director and also has a 3-year-old.

“There were times that I was on a phone call for work, and trying to get him to read out loud to his teacher on the computer,” Milner said.

While her son’s teachers were “phenomenal” last school year, Milner said homeschooling would offer the ability for her family to go at their own pace and do school work during times that were best for them. While she still was leaning toward sending her son for in-person learning at school, Milner said she was going to wait at least a few weeks to make a final decision after seeing what other families were choosing — at that time she was going to trust her intuition.

Kelly Broman-Fulks said she hasn’t made decisions lightly about what to do about her three children’s education in the fall, and that it’s been a deeply personal decision. Her concern is that a member of her family has a health condition, and COVID-19 could increase the chance of a serious complication for that family member. However, she said she’s grieving as a parent because her children are approaching formative years of school at Parkway School and Watauga High School — kindergarten, eighth grade and 12th grade.

“Those first days of school for these milestone years are not going to be what I have imagined,” Broman-Fulks said. “I’ve been so burdened by my kids having an in-person school experience for these monumental years. But at what cost? Does the risk of a serious complication from COVID-19 outweigh missing experiences with in-person school? It’s been difficult.”

Broman-Fulks said everyone’s needs and family situations are different, and no one plan will work for each family. She urged families to listen to each other with care and concern during this time, and said “it’s hard for all of us.” Wilson acknowledged how many parents are struggling during this time, and there are many who feel like “they’re failing at everything.”

“If you’re trying to work from home, you (feel like) you’re not doing enough to meet the requirements of your job, but you’re also not being a fully present parent,” Wilson said. “I don’t see how that’s alleviated by a two-day-at-school and three-day-at-home schedule. That’s still going to be a concern for people.”

Broman-Fulks — who is currently working part-time from home — said her family is considering the option of remote learning with the Watauga Virtual Academy. When making the decision of potentially not returning for in-person instruction, she said her family considered the upward trend of COVID-19 cases in the state and region, and that her family wanted to see more studies regarding long-term implications of contracting the virus as well as better treatment and prevention measures.

Many parents are also advocating for more days for in-person learning. Some have expressed on social media that they worry about child care for the three days that students will be remote learning. Milner said child care may fall back on grandparents while parents go to work.

“If the kids are going to school two days a week and staying with grandma three days a week, then we’re putting grandma in a really serious position,” Milner said.

Hallie Harding is a single mom who has been paying $70 a day for a nanny to care for her two children while she goes to work. This has taken place while school has not been in session and summer camps aren’t operating. She said while her paycheck has been cut, she’s been thankful to have retained her job.

However, Harding said she’ll be forced to quit her job if she can’t find a remote position or an available nanny — which she said she won’t be able to afford. Her children — 12-years-old and 7-years-old — attend Hardin Park, and each have an individualized learning plan. Due to their styles of learning, remote education wasn’t a good fit. She said her family supports the school system, and loves their school community.

“Unfortunately with COVID-19 and the decision to continue remote learning, I am at a personal loss,” Harding said. “I have run out of options and I’m not sure where to turn.”

When deciding between homeschooling and applying for the Watauga Virtual Academy, Broman-Fulks said she took into account how much her family values public education. She became concerned about the possibility of WCS cutting teacher and staff positions if enrollment drops because families chose to homeschool — a concern Wilson expressed as well. WCS stated that it had an enrollment of 4,702 students in May.

According to the N.C. Department of Administration, 523 homeschools were registered in 2019-20 with an enrollment of 891 students in Watauga County. The department explained that in order to legally provide for a child’s education at home and meet North Carolina compulsory attendance laws, parents must file a notice of intent to homeschool. The Department of Administration’s Division of Non-Public Education started accepting new notices of intent on July 1.

The N.C. Department of Administration explains that homeschools must consist of children from no more than two families or households. Parents or legal guardians or members of either household are required to determine the scope and sequence of the academic instruction, provide academic instruction and determine additional sources of academic instruction. Additionally, the department requires that families follow the legal requirements to operate a home school, notify the Division of Non-Public Education at any time if the homeschool address or enrollment changes and to respond to communications from the division in a timely manner to confirm continued operations.

To file a notice of intent to open a new homeschool, visit www.dnpesys.nc.gov/NPEPublic/NOIHomeSchool.aspx.

Elliott explained that public schools receive state funding based on enrollment. If parents were to choose to homeschool their children rather than remain enrolled in WCS, Elliott said it will result in a decline in enrollment and a loss of state funding. A loss of funding would mean the school system would need to cut spending or find other ways to fund expenses.

“So far we have been able to maintain the employment of all our teachers and staff, and I hope that will continue to be the case,” Elliott said. “We plan to give parents the option of an all virtual school with priority given to students who are at high risk for COVID-related illnesses. How many students we can serve will depend on how many teachers we would need to move from in person to all remote instruction.”

As the daughter of a teacher with other family members who serve as educators, Wilson said she worries that asking teachers to return to the classroom would be asking them to “put their lives on the line.” At the same time, she said she believes that teachers are experts in their subject matter, and her high school junior would benefit from a connection to a curriculum that’s already established. This is why Wilson was favoring the idea of the virtual academy.

“I don’t want to send anybody into harm’s way when there are viable alternatives,” Wilson said. “I think why it’s so hard for us to make a firm decision right this minute is because our decision could potentially impact someone else in a way that is negative. If we say we 100 percent are going to stay home with enough people that it hampers the school, then that’s not something we want either.”

Both Wilson and Broman-Fulks said that if their children did attend the Watauga Virtual Academy, they would do so through the fall semester. Once the fall semester had ended, both families would then re-evaluate about how to proceed in spring 2021. Elliott said his hope is that WCS would be back to full operations by the spring, but that will really be dictated by the public health conditions at that time.


News
Hundreds attend Back the Blue rally in Boone

BOONE — The lawn of Bibleway Baptist Church in Boone filled with several hundred people on July 18 for a Back the Blue rally to show love, support and prayer for the area’s law enforcement.

While a few dozen attendees indicated they were law enforcement or retired law enforcement and military, the majority of the crowd was made up of family members of law enforcement, including the families of officers who have been killed in the line of duty, such as Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Deputy William Mast Jr., who died in 2012.

Michael Greene, pastor of Bibleway Baptist Church, opened the rally by saying, “We’re not here to flatter them, we’re here to back them.”

“We’re here to show our support… I was thinking about the fact that our nation is a civilized nation because it’s built on laws, but a law is only as strong as those that enforce them. I’m grateful for those who are willing to put on the uniform each and every day to keep us safe. We do believe it to be a Biblical calling.”

“When God began to burden my heart over this, I began to realize that there’s some strange narratives going around in our day,” Greene said. “In fact, it defies even common sense. ‘Defund police’? Do away with police? I mean, how ignorant … Who’s going to come? Who’s going to show up when you call 9-1-1?”

A small group of protesters arrived on the other side of the road at the beginning of the event, most holding signs stating “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police.” No protesters crossed the road onto Bibleway Baptist Church property. A security team, made up of mostly men who are retired law enforcement and teenagers who assisted with parking, stood on the Bibleway Baptist Church lawn and held blank paper over their heads to block out the protesters.

“Are we going to give our nation to the rapists? To the murderers? To child abductors? To the kidnappers? To the drug dealers?” Greene said to the crowd, who responded with a “no” to each question.

“These men and women get up each and every day and put on a uniform so that we might live with protection and have the peace and civility in our nation that no other nation on earth gets to enjoy,” said Greene. “There’s not a vocation on earth that doesn’t have its bad apples. The ministry, media, even law enforcement, the medical field — but we civilized, sensible people do not gauge a bucket of great apples over one or two bad ones.”

Following Greene’s opening, Ethan Greene, Greene’s son and the pastor of Victory Baptist Church, led the Pledge of Allegiance, Jacob Rupert, Nicholas Rupert and Isiah Greene performed the national anthem, and a prayer was led by Pastor David Ward of Westside Baptist Church in Sugar Grove.

Protesters responded in various ways throughout the event, especially during lulls and pauses from the speakers, often questioning claims and statements made on the stage. Several vehicles drove by during the rally, some honking for an extended amount of time and some passing with American and Thin Blue Line flags displayed behind their vehicles.

Avery County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff Lee Buchanan was introduced by Andrew Greene, who said that Buchanan was awarded the Medal of Valor from President Donald Trump for a heroic action in June 2016 in Tennessee, when he and another officer pulled a motorist from a burning vehicle.

“The difference? Buchanan was off duty, out of uniform. How many know that our law enforcement officers, no matter when they clock out, go home and lay the badge aside, they’re never truly off duty. He, like so many others, responded to the call of duty, and rescued this motorist, saving their life,” Andrew Greene said.

Buchanan said that his speech was more for “the group across the road” than it was for the people on the lawn.

“That’s what law enforcement is all about — putting our lives at jeopardy for the people that we serve. I love serving everybody. I love serving those in front of me, and I love serving those across the road,” said Buchanan. “My service is no different for you than it is for them.”

Arielle Chambers, national assistant director of BLEXIT, a co-sponsor of the event, explained the importance of using conservative values to repair conflict, which earned applause from the crowd.

“I want you to all see that we have a culture problem. I’ll go one step further: It is a sin problem. This is not about white and Black, this is about there is a problem with conservatives and liberals in this country not doing enough for people,” said Chambers. “This is not a white issue here. This is not a Black issue here. There is a problem with crime,” she said. “Clearly there is an issue when more Black people are killed in our inner cities by other Blacks than any other demographic group in the entire country. I have a problem with that. I love my people, and I want what’s best for them. I love the color of my skin, and I’m tired of people looking at me and saying I’m racist … because I believe that Black people shouldn’t be killing other Black people.”

Keynote speaker Ron Baity, founder of Return America, chaplain of Winston-Salem Sheriff’s Office and a pastor of 50-plus years, told event attendees that law enforcement was put in place by God, echoing Greene’s earlier comments.

“Law enforcement is divine in origin. It was not put in place by the president; it was not put in place by the legislature. Law enforcement was put in place by none other than our creator. He knew because of the wickedness of the human heart, that we would need somebody to curb the violence if we lived in peace in this nation,” said Baity. “So these precious men and women, they are patriots today ... They stand today between good and evil.”

Baity also recalled a particular instance when he had to deliver the news of an officer’s injury to the officer’s family in the middle of the night.

“I want you to know, contrary to what people might say, police officers are human beings also. Police officers hurt like we hurt; they ache like we ache. It’s time that we let them know: We’re proud of you, we’re thankful to you and thank you for standing up for us. It’s not time to defund law enforcement — it’s time to fund law enforcement. It’s not time to tell law enforcement to stand down — it’s time to tell law enforcement to stand up, and stand up to the bullies that seek to change the topography of this nation.

“Without this group of people, it wouldn’t be safe for your wife or your daughter to leave the house and go down the street. When evil men are trying to break into your house at midnight, you don’t pick up the phone and call the psychologist … You call someone with a badge on their chest, and they’re coming in the name of the law because they’re the only ones qualified and put in place by God to be able to do so,” Baity said.

A number of other pastors from across the region, including from Avery County, Butler, Tenn., and Zionville, prayed for law enforcement and the state of the country before the rally’s close.

Several retired officers and their families stayed to enjoy a free meal provided by Bibleway Baptist Church.

Dawn Trivette, a Boone resident and one of the protesters, said that she was there trying to bring awareness to what the “defund the police movement really entails.” Riot gear costs $500 per suit, Trivette said, and horses that are used in bigger cities cost thousands of dollars just to purchase.

“That’s funding that, if those things were funded less, could go to schools or health care,” she said.

Another protester, Samantha, said that she was “practicing her First Amendment right” and “using her voice as a veteran to take a stance on police violence.”

“Cops aren’t trained to do what they always need to do,” she said.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

Pastor Michael Greene of Bibleway Baptist Church welcomes community members to the church’s lawn for the July 18 Back the Blue event.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

American stick flags, Thin Blue Line stick flags and white, cotton ‘Back the Blue’ face masks were available to attendees of the Back the Blue rally in Boone on July 18.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

Ron Baity, chaplain for the Winston-Salem Sheriff’s Office, founder of Return America and pastor for more than 50 years, is the keynote speaker of the Back the Blue rally in Boone on July 18.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

Counter protesters

Protesters stand across the road from Bibleway Baptist Church in Boone during the Back the Blue rally on July 18.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

Rally attendees and members of the security team hold blank pieces of paper over their heads to block out protesters.

Photo by Abby Whitt 

Avery County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Lee Buchanan speaks at the Back the Blue rally in Boone on July 18.


News
Boone man convicted of child porn charges in federal court

CHARLOTTE — After a two-day trial, a 60-year-old Boone man was convicted of child pornography charges by a federal jury in Charlotte on July 17, according to Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

William Jon Patric Ebert, 60, of Boone, was convicted of using a minor to produce child pornography photographs of the minor and possession of those photographs. He was found not guilty of transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual criminal activity.

Ebert is currently in federal custody, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. A sentencing date had not been set as of July 20. U.S. District Judge Frank D. Whitney presided over the trial.

According to filed court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ebert sexually abused a minor for more than six years, the U.S. attorney’s office stated. The sexual abuse took place in Ohio and in North Carolina. Evidence presented at trial established that Ebert also used the minor to produce child pornography photographs of the minor, and that he stored those photographs on his computer and other devices he owned.

On Sept. 22, 2016, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at Ebert’s residence in Boone and seized several devices and computers. A forensic analysis of Ebert’s hard drive revealed that it contained sexually explicit images of the minor victim, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The production of child pornography charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The possession of child pornography charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Both charges carry a maximum fine of $250,000.

In making the announcement, Murray thanked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Avon Police Department in Ohio for their investigation of this case. Assistant United States Attorneys Kimlani Ford and Eric Lindahl are prosecuting the case for the United States.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, this case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood — a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The initiate was launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, and is led by U.S. attorneys’ offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.

Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.