11/24/04 — County proposes committee to discuss schools

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County proposes committee to discuss schools

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on November 24, 2004 2:01 PM

The Wayne County commissioners want to meet with the Board of Education as soon as next week about the racial imbalance in central Goldsboro schools and to discuss school construction.

At its meeting Tuesday, the county board voted 5-2 to ask the school board to discuss the proposal for what Commissioner Atlas Price titled "the 20/20 Vision Committee."

Also Tuesday, the commissioners offered the school system free use of their financial adviser, Davenport and Co., which is examining the county's finances and what it can afford to do.

The Vision Committee, which would include commissioners, school board members and others, would be asked to come up with a plan by June to have better racial balance in the nearly all-black city schools.

The committee would also recommend school construction projects to take the school system through the year 2020.

"A 15-year plan would ensure the citizens of Wayne County that tax dollars for our public schools are being spent effectively and efficiently," Price said.

Commissioners Efton Sager and Andy Anderson voted against the proposal, mainly because the school board might feel this was being forced on them, they said.

But Commissioner Jack Best said that school board Chairman Pete Gurley originally suggested the committee be formed.

Price's committee proposal would include all the commissioners, school board members and Goldsboro councilmen; representatives of each of the county's other town boards; and up to a dozen at-large members chosen to make the group more diverse.

The committee would meet as soon as next month to discuss these questions:

*How could the school system best resolve the racial imbalance of the central Goldsboro schools? Price does not favor forced busing as part of the solution, he said.

*How will the county's population change over the next 15 years? Where should schools be as a result?

*Should the county repair and expand its existing schools or build new ones? Priorities need to be set, he said.

*How can the county better retain and recruit teachers?

Some commissioners were quick to voice their support. "This should have been done 18 months ago," Best said.

But Anderson said that he would prefer to wait until Dec. 6 when the new Board of Commissioners would be sworn in. "The timing's a little bad," he said. "Nobody's discussed this with me."

"I tried to call you three times last week, and you didn't return my calls," Best said.

Commissioner John Bell added, "We don't need to put this off. Wait for what? Let's do our jobs."

The 5-2 vote was one of the first split votes among the commissioners in several months.

"It's a bad way to start off the year," Anderson commented.

Chairman J.D. Evans replied, "It's raining today, but it didn't rain yesterday and it won't rain tomorrow. We'll get past this."

Davenport offer

The board was united earlier when it agreed to allow Davenport and Co. to extend its contract to include the school system.

The commissioners hired Davenport in July to examine the county finances and investment strategies and help it plan for future building projects.

The company has worked closely with County Manager Lee Smith and his staff this fall to prepare a report due next month.

Smith has been impressed with the consultant, he said. "The last three months have been phenomenal."

Commissioner Best proposed that the county offer its services to the school system as well. Davenport can help the school officials to make the best use of their money, including investments, planning for buildings, and energy-savings equipment, he said.

"We're getting ready to spend a lot of money on schools over the next few years," in addition to the millions in the annual operating expenses, Best said. This would help assure that money is well-spent.

Smith said that schools Superintendent Steven Taylor has been receptive to the idea, but it will have to be a school board decision.

"I don't see how they can object to an offer of this nature," Chairman Evans said. "We're going to pay for it."

Davenport would likely do the additional work as part of the county's contract, which pays the company up to $7,500 per quarter, or a maximum of $30,000 for the year.

But even if the county had to sweeten the deal, it'd still be worth it, Commissioner Sager said.