02/24/04 — Northern Wayne wants share of school plan

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Northern Wayne wants share of school plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 24, 2004 1:59 PM

Northern Wayne County residents weighed in with school board members Monday night about getting their share of the proposed construction plan.

Nearly 100 residents met at Charles B. Aycock High School for two hours, voicing concerns about the plan and how it will affect schools in that part of the county.

Jimmy Hare said the citizens wanted some assurances from the board that the proposed plan would be carried out once funding is received. In recent months, groups from Grantham and Mount Olive have appeared before the board with requests for additional high schools that had not originally been included in the plan.

"We want to make sure the proposed facilities plan is carried through and not pre-empted for others' needs," he said.

Wesley Wooten said the northern end of the county has grown rapidly in the last decade, and the school system has not kept pace.

"Sometimes the northern end of the county is not being looked after like they could have been, like they should have been," he said.

Wooten said recent newspaper accounts indicated the board is receptive to ideas presented from the other communities. He said he feels the board is not seeing where the problems are, namely northern Wayne County.

Hare said the three most pressing needs in that area would be having another middle school, additional space at Charles B. Aycock High, and receiving prompt attention at the elementary schools.

Parents and teachers also spoke about congested hallways, limited bathrooms, and uncovered walkways from trailers to school buildings.

Board Chairman Pete Gurley said that in the board's most recent $42 million proposal to the county commissioners, $27 million has been earmarked for the northern section of the county. Included are 20 new classrooms at Aycock along with renovations to the kitchen, cafeteria and administrative area, renovations and a cafeteria expansion at Norwayne Middle School, four additional classrooms each at Northeast and Northwest elementary schools, and renovations at Fremont Stars Elementary.

Other board members at the meeting were Vice Chairman Lehman Smith, John Grantham, George Moye, and Rick Pridgen. Andy Anderson was the only county commissioner in attendance but had to leave soon after the meeting began.

"I was hoping that everyone of them would be here tonight," Pridgen said of the commissioners. "We haven't been able to get anything to move for 13 and one-half months. I feel like we have been at meetings with handcuffs on."

Gurley said the board has heard nothing back from the commissioners, who control the purse strings, since the plan was submitted in December, 2002.

"We have asked, we have begged, but we don't have the money," he said. "All we can do is allocate the money when the commissioners hand it down to us."

Smith said the process has been frustrating.

"There were times when we'd meet with the county commissioners, and I thought the money would be on the desk when I got back to the board room," he said.

That hasn't happened, though, and he said the hope now is for a bond vote in time for the fall election.

Grantham urged the residents to get behind the bond issue and let the commissioners know they are in favor of it. He cautioned against finger-pointing and pitting one end of the county against the other.

Moye said that every area of the county must be represented on the construction plan and must then pull together in order for it to pass.

"I think when elected officials hear us critical of the needs of some other area, that's counterproductive," he said. "It's going to take a joint effort from everybody to get this done. If there's one community that doesn't support it, it could go haywire with the entire plan."

Resident Laura Dillard said that before she moved to Wayne County, her children had always attended private school. Something about this school system impressed her enough to send her daughter to Northwest Elementary School, where she has been pleased. What she heard Monday night about the middle school, though, gave her pause.

"None of this is very inviting to me," she said. "I haven't learned anything from this meeting that makes me want to put my child in this school."

Steve Hooks was similarly positive about his child's experience at Fremont Stars Elementary -- so far.

"I have two more children," he said. "I am very concerned with what the problem is going to be in the next five years."

He said the population is growing faster than the school buildings. "Whatever you propose," he told the school board, "I assume it's going to take five years minimum. We need to get started on it."

Pridgen agreed that there needs to be a vision toward the future.

"We don't need to build schools for now," he said. "We need to build them for 10 years from now."

Tim Lancaster, president of Aycock's booster club, said that overcrowding also affects athletic programs and the number of youth who get to participate.

"Too many kids get cut," he said. "We're really depriving those kids of what they can do." He urged the school board to do whatever it takes to get the money.

"Whatever it takes from the county commissioners, I will put my part in," he said. "I'm sure everybody else will."