03/19/04 — School board seeks to clarify building-plan issue

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School board seeks to clarify building-plan issue

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 19, 2004 2:06 PM

Some school board members have taken exception to comments this week by Wayne County commissioners about the anticipated school construction plan.

School Board Chairman Pete Gurley and members Lehman Smith and Rick Pridgen say there were some inaccurate statements during Tuesday's commissioners meeting. Armed with a "timeline of paper," they visited the News-Argus on Thursday to clear up what they felt were discrepancies.

"Some of the things that were said, we're not in agreement with at all," Gurley said.

He said an article in Wednesday's newspaper quoted a commissioner as indicating that the total cost of the plan could be as high as $100 million.

"We don't know where the $100 million number is coming from," he said. "That may be out there, but not to us officially."

Commissioners Chairman Ken Gerrard was quoted as saying the school board had sent commissioners a plan for $42 million and later changed it to $58 million. School board members said that was the exact opposite of what occurred.

Pridgen said a board-approved draft for $58 million was sent to commissioners in January 2003. In response to commissioners' wishes, he said, it was reduced by $18 million so it could be funded without a tax increase.

"We voted to take out the proposed high school in the southwestern part of the county, which was exactly $18 million," he said. "That lowered the budget to $42 million."

According to Pridgen, the school board voted to reduce the plan by $18 million during a May 9 work session. A formal vote was taken at the board meeting on May 12, with copies sent to the county commissioners.

"Since that time, we have not heard a word from them, not one word, on the plan," he said.

Pridgen said that in late August, the commissioners' clerk, Marcia Wilson, contacted Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent of schools for auxiliary services.

"She said the office couldn't find a copy anywhere down there of the facilities plan, out of all the copies that we had sent them," he said. "So we hand-delivered them."

Pridgen said it was frustrating to know that they had lost copies of what had been sent.

"Everything that we have done has been at their request," he said. "When they have asked for something, we have taken immediate action and sent it right back to them."

County Manager Lee Smith tells a different version.

"They had made modifications, but had not officially voted on them," he said. "When we got closer to the process of bringing it before the commissioners, there was some talk from some board members that there had been some changes to the plan.

"I remember specifically talking to Marcia and asked her to get in touch with Sprunt and see if we could have the most updated plan."

He said his concern was that there had been some changes made since the original plan was sent to the commissioners. Even though information had been received in April or May, he said, nothing had gone before the full board for discussion.

"I wanted to make sure before I took something to the commissioners that this was indeed the plan," he said.

Smith also discussed the reference to $100 million.

"What was said was that no matter what we're talking about, be it $42 million or $100 million, we're the funders and have to look at how it will be funded," he said.

Gurley said that because there have been so many delays, other needs have arisen, including requests from Grantham and Mount Olive groups to bring schools to those communities. He said a comment had been made by a commissioner that the school board had "all but promised Grantham a high school" during a recent rally.

"We haven't 'all but promised them,'" he said. "We have promised them a high school. It will be in the plan" that is submitted to the commissioners.

He said the board plans a work session on Monday to finish the construction plan.

What the projected final amount will be is not known, Pridgen said, but Gurley suggested it would be closer to $82 million than $100 million.

He said the amount was derived from the current $42 million plan plus the addition of the two requested high schools.

"It may end up being $90 million before we're through with it," he said. "We have also got a group from central attendance area that's coming up with their list of needs, so we can represent everyone in the county."

Gurley said he had always thought the schools had a good relationship with the county commissioners and believes they still do.

"I think they'll come through," he said.