02/10/04 — Mapping county vision

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Mapping county vision

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 10, 2004 2:02 PM

Wayne County officials spent three hours Monday defining a vision for public schools, economic development and quality of life issues for the area.

And they all agreed that it would be difficult to move forward without public involvement and support.

"It takes the people to be involved," said County Commissioner Ken Gerrard. "We need to educate people on issues and impacts, because people need to have cost information to make a good decision."

Members of the county school board, the Goldsboro City Council, the county commissioners, and the town boards of Mount Olive, Fremont and Seven Springs participated in the work session at the school board's administration building. One representative from Pikeville was also there.

The meeting, a follow-up to a September workshop, was led by Phillip Boyle, associate professor of public management and government at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government.

"Our main purpose in September was to determine if it made sense for the boards to have dialogue," Boyle said. "We intentionally focused on issues that cut across boundaries."

Those issues were organized into three major categories: Economic development, public schools and quality of life. The task before officials Monday night was to explore the issues.

"Pick one of the three topics and talk about what it is we would want it to look like," Boyle said. "Don't waste time on how you're going to get there, because until you agree where you want to go, there's no sense in arguing about how you're going to get there."

Each of the six groups had a cross section of people from the various boards.

School board member Thelma Smith's group chose public schools.

"We chose the hottest topic," Ms. Smith said. "We would like to see district schools."

Though there is support for community schools in the area, Ms. Smith said, resources for a large number of schools would be difficult to get.

She said her group felt that there wouldn't be enough certified teachers for 10 high schools, but said the group acknowledged there would be barriers to district schools.

Other visions for public schools included balancing the student population so there wouldn't be anything in one school that you couldn't get in another, increased teacher pay, and new equipment and facilities.

The challenges to the vision, she said, were community support, funding, personnel and site location.

School board member Rick Pridgen's group also tackled the public school issue.

Diversity in inner city schools, optimal use of buildings and public perception were challenges faced by the school system, Pridgen said.

He also said that population patterns needed to be studied.

"We have to observe where the increases are in the county, and what the needs are going to be 10 years from now," he said.

School board member Shirley Sims' group delved into economic development and listed beautification of the county as having a major effect on attracting businesses.

"We also need to have a restructuring of public housing," Ms. Sims said. "Senior citizens need to live somewhere they can have peace and solace."

School board member George Moye's group tackled the quality of life issues and listed environmental issues as a big concern.

"Solutions involve community effort," Moye said. "We have to unify and energize the population. People need something to unite for."

Later in the evening the various boards were given an opportunity to comment on what they had heard during the evening.

School board member John Grantham said his board didn't feel people were aware of the school board's legal and financial constraints.

The good points, he said, was that everyone seemed interested in education and didn't seem opposed to funding.

Some of the school board's concerns, Grantham said, was a lack of trust by others on how the Board of Education reaches decisions.

Leroy Ruffin, Fremont council member, said that development was slower in northern Wayne, but said there was plenty of land available there for industry to locate.

"We're committed to doing all we can," he said. "We can give tax incentives to build, we can give time, but we can't give any money because we don't have any."

Goldsboro City Manager Richard Slozak said the city liked the idea of district schools, but thought there was a lack of understanding regarding the effect schools had on economic development in the city.

As for economic development, Slozak said, the city had worked hard to provide infrastructure.

"We're one of the few cities in the state that has excess water and sewer capacity, and that was done for economic development," he said.

Slozak said that the city was willing to work with the other boards on the issues.

Wayne County Commissioner Ken Gerrard said that the commissioners were concerned about the same issues as everyone else, but they had to worry about funding.

"The problem is how to prioritize," he said. "We have to think of the cost, all the needs and how to distribute what we have."

Boyle said he heard a few similarities from each of the boards.

"No one feels understood by anyone else," he said. "And educating the public: How to deal with letting people know what you've done."

Boyle said that there was a strong sense of mutual concern and commitment from the boards.

"I'll talk with the managers and administrators about what to give back to each of the boards regarding the next step in the process," he said.