03/05/04 — Mount Olive forum draws crowd

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Mount Olive forum draws crowd

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 5, 2004 2:02 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The time is right for a community high school in Mount Olive, residents say, and some school board members agree their patience should be rewarded.

Nearly 100 residents attended a public forum in the former Mount Olive High School auditorium Thursday night. The 75-minute meeting bolstered the efforts begun several months ago when Grantham citizens first approached the school board with a similar proposal.

Ray McDonald Jr. of the group's steering committee said the Mount Olive group also supports Grantham's efforts.

"They're doing it for the same reasons we're doing it," he said. "When Grantham came forward, we decided the time was right.

"If we don't, we're going to lose the window of opportunity."

Lynn Williams said that 40 years ago, the pendulum swung for consolidation. Today the pendulum is swinging back.

"We need the school setting small enough for teachers to know their students and not be one of 150 faces that they see in the course of the day," she said.

"The opportunity is at hand. We have a school board that's supportive and a possible (bond) referendum on the horizon. We need to be willing to work hard to make it happen and work with other communities."

McDonald read a resolution passed recently by the mayor and town board. It backed the move for the school in Mount Olive, the second largest municipality in Wayne County that at one time had two high schools. The resolution supported the return of that tradition, which could end the busing of students miles away from the town to Southern Wayne High School and allow students to become more involved in school activities.

"Our children attend Carver Elementary School and Mount Olive Middle School," he said. "Then those kids are moved at a critical time in their lives. They're moving out of our community and going somewhere else."

Kenney Moore, owner of Andy's, is also on the steering committee. He said that youths show a marked change when they go to high school, and they can fall through the cracks in a larger school.

"Participation levels are much more attainable at a smaller school," he said. "We hear about the 'ABCs' and 'leaving no child behind,' but we have got to have it so that we can get our arms around children again."

School board member Shirley Sims graduated from Carver High School when it was in Mount Olive. She recalled being devastated when she was in college and learned it was being closed.

"We should never have lost our high school," she said.

"When I first heard that we might be thinking about a high school in Mount Olive, I was relieved. So I'm very happy that we're considering this."

She said that re-establishing a high school in smaller communities would be beneficial for many reasons and applauded the approach that has been taken by the citizens.

"You have been the most considerate group of people that we have had in Wayne County," she said.

She recalled how long it had taken to get Carver Elementary School built in Mount Olive, saying it was put on the back burner for at least six years before it came to fruition.

"You did not shout, scream or wave banners when you didn't get Carver School," she said. "You waited. And you are to be compensated for the manner you handled this."

Board member John Grantham and board Chairman Pete Gurley said the school board unanimously supported the efforts, but the issue still came down to money.

"We are not a funding agency," Gurley said. "We have no authority on how the money is going to be appropriated for this goal."

He said the $42 million building program sent to the county commissioners does not include the high schools requested in Mount Olive and Grantham.

"Our board has endorsed the request of both of them and is willing to put this in our request to the commissioners," he said. "Then it's going to be up to them if we can float a bond issue."

Grantham said the board is faced with the opportunity to turn around the education system in Wayne County.

"If people can get behind it, it can and will happen," he said.

He said the needs are legitimate, and there is the possibility things could happen quickly if the bond issue makes it to the fall ballot.

State Rep. Louis Pate of Mount Olive asked how the rest of the county would perceive the requests and whether it would be widely supported.

Grantham said members of the school board recently met with residents in northern Wayne County, and people there did not oppose adding other high schools as long as the needs for additional classrooms there were met.

The school board has also heard from a group of ministers in Goldsboro who want improvements made to central city schools, particularly the building of a new magnet high school. But that request was not mentioned Thursday.

"We have a strategic plan," Gurley said. "There's something in there for every part of Wayne County. There's something we could all pass as an entire county if we work together."

County Commissioner Atlas Price said that if the cost adds up tremendously, there will have to be a bond referendum, which could result in a tax increase for residents. Selling a bond is a long, intensive process and needs to have everyone's support, he said.

"There are things, strategies, that are very important for a bond referendum," he said. "You don't plan a bond referendum when you figure a lot of people are going to vote against it. You do it when you think people will vote for it."

The main thing residents want at this point, McDonald said, is to get a high school, even if it means using an existing building. On a survey distributed at the meeting, three preferences were suggested for consideration: the former Carver High School site, a location near Carver Elementary School, or a new site within one mile of Mount Olive.

Rep. Pate also suggested another funding resource, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has made money available for community schools. He said it would be wise to investigate that as a possibility.