02/04/05 — Commissioners, school board talk money, long-range needs

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Commissioners, school board talk money, long-range needs

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 4, 2005 2:04 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the county Board of Education spent two hours together on Thursday, trying to determine the schools' long-range plans and financial needs.

The discussion was constructive, members of both boards said, although they said they continue to wrestle with what they called a "perception issue" regarding the schools in the school system's central attendance area.

Schools Superintendent Steve Taylor said school administrators are working to update a 1999 study which outlined the needs of the system. He said updating the study would take another 30 to 40 days.

School board member George Moye said it is difficult to plan when "we don't know how much money we have to work with."

Lee Smith, the county manager, said the commissioners are within about a month of being able to assess the county's financial capabilities.

Smith said that he isn't optimistic about funding because the state treasurer is opposed to a proposed statewide education bond referendum in 2006. The referendum would provide local school systems with additional money.

School board member John Grantham asked whether some of the buildings needed by the school system could be built by private developers and then leased by the county.

"We've looked at privatization," Smith said, "and it would cost millions of dollars more."

School board member Rick Pridgen said that a long-range building plan for the school system is difficult, if not impossible.

"It's hard to project when children are going to be born, or where houses are going to be built in the next 20 years," Pridgen said.

Commissioner Jack Best asked the school board to decide what size schools they needed and where they needed to build the schools.

"You may have to modernize some of the existing schools, and you may have to bulldoze some," Best said.

Pridgen said that research indicates that after 45 years, it isn't profitable to try and retrofit school buildings.

There are about eight schools that are more than 45 years old in Wayne, Pridgen pointed out. The county cannot bulldoze all of them, he said.

Best brought up the issue of the schools' central attendance area, saying that a negative perception of the inner-city schools clouded the progress the school board had made in other areas.

"It is a perception," said school board member Thelma Smith. "Because it is all black, people perceive it can't be good. But it's a great school and I'm sick and tired of people putting it down."

Ms. Smith said that students at Goldsboro High School receive a good education. She said the problems she hears people discussing is a lack of diversity in the schools in the central attendance area.

"Let's find a way now to create a diverse population in the schools, if that's the problem," said J.D. Evans, the chairman of the board of commissioners.

School board member John Grantham attributed the high percentage of black students in inner-city schools to the number of housing projects in the city. But Best said that only 700 of the 2,700 students in the inner part of Goldsboro live in the public housing complexes.

Commissioner John Bell said that part of the perception problem comes from people selling houses.

"They steer people away from the area and talk bad about Goldsboro High School," Bell said.

The members of the two boards said they want to discuss the matter with the Goldsboro City Council.

"Mr. Evans, and some others in the community, have had the idea taking money from travel and tourism and the money from the community center to put a civic and community center at Goldsboro High School," said Best. "Then we could put a new school on the edge of Goldsboro."

Commissioner Andy Anderson said that the commissioners are looking at their budget options, and need to have the school system come up with the best plan possible in time for the commissioners to decide how best to allocate money.

School board member Pete Gurley noted that the school board has given the commissioners a needs plan three previous times.

The two boards agreed to meet again soon, this time with the Goldsboro City Council invited to attend.