05/19/04 — Duplin still looking for school consultant

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Duplin still looking for school consultant

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 19, 2004 1:59 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County still hasn't found a consultant to advise what to do about overcrowding and racial imbalance in the schools.

The Duplin school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to find a more "scholastic oriented consultant" to make a similar presentation at the next meeting.

Jeff Tsai of the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University told the board members that his area of expertise doesn't cover what they're seeking.

"We are not experts in education curriculum planning," said Tsai. He told the board that for $15,000 he can give them scenarios of what would happen if they moved students from one district to another. He can tell them cheaper bus routes to create. But he can't tell them what is the best move for their education.

Board member Hubert Bowden said he was expecting to hear whether it would be better to build a school for a large student population or a small one.

Superintendent Tommy Benson said the school administration has found out a larger school can give a more broad-based curriculum. "We have looked at some of those issues already," he said.

Benson, Chairman Doc Brinson and board member Emily Manning said they want to study the entire county.

"Much of what the board has done over the years has been piecemeal," said Benson.

"We need all the information we can get to make a decision about the schools we build, or whatever," said Ms. Manning.

The board already knows the northern end of the county is growing, said board member Reginald Kenan. He said the board needs to rely more on the administrators for the information.

Board member Graham Phillips said he's convinced that a study is needed, but he wants to know what moves would be academically sound.

Phillips said he doesn't want the entire county studied. "We need a study on James Kenan and North Duplin (districts) first, to get a handle on that, and then study the rest," he said. "Studying the entire county would only slow us down."

He also said he doesn't think a bond issue would pass, to help pay for new schools. The only way he can see getting the money is for the county to take out a bank loan and raise taxes to pay it off.

The county doesn't have five or six years to save the money for a new school, he said, and Warsaw Middle School needs help now.

One idea suggested by a group of business owners in Warsaw and Kenansville would be to consolidate James Kenan and North Duplin high schools. The group feels this would create a more diverse student population, increase academic and vocational opportunities, increase extracurricular activities and provide more athletic programs.

But many North Duplin parents oppose consolidation, wanting to keep the school small.

So far, nobody knows how the county would get the money. County finance officials have estimated it would take 4 or 5 cents in additional property taxes to raise the $15 million needed to build a new middle school, and it could take 8 or 9 cents to raise the $25 million for a large high school.

Phillips said he wonders why the board should consider a consolidated high school if the people don't want it.