02/27/05 — Commissioners call for educational council

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Commissioners call for educational council

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 27, 2005 2:07 AM

Wayne County commissioners are ready to form an educational council and set a date for a retreat between the school board and the commissioners.

Spurred on by discussions earlier in the week with the school board, commissioners decided Friday to follow the county's strategic plan regarding the school system.

That plan, developed in 1996 with the help of almost 300 Wayne County citizens, called for the establishment of a county educational council.

The educational council will consist of representatives from the county commissioner board, the board of education, the Economic Development Commission, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the Chamber of Commerce, Wayne Community College and Mount Olive College.

In prior discussions, several school board members had suggested that the existing advisory committee could double as the educational council, but commissioners said the strategic plan called for the two groups to be different.

"It should be noted the existing community parent advisory council would continue in its role of focusing primarily on the needs of individual schools," the plan advised.

The educational council would organize the details of an annual education summit, to track progress on priority issues, and generally advise the School Board and County Commissioners on educational matters.

An annual county-wide education summit would allow a broad cross section of citizens to identify issues facing the school system and to recommend priorities among the various issues needing attention.

Commissioner Efton Sager said he thought it was important to follow the plan as outlined, to avoid sending "mixed signals."

Sager, and the other commissioners, also hope that following the plan would eliminate what they perceive as defensiveness from the school board.

"The school board thinks that we're trying to do their business," Sager said. "We're trying to do our business together. We're concerned about managing the taxpayers money well."

Commissioner Atlas Price said he thought some strides had been made in the latest meeting with the school board, but said "there are issues they didn't want to talk about."

"They want to defend, and we need to discuss the issues," he said. "They need to be open, and let there be nothing that they're not willing to talk about."

Price said he felt like the school board only wanted to know how much money the commissioners would give to the schools, and when.

Commissioner Jack Best agreed, saying that the commissioners have to understand the difference between the "wants and the needs," of the schools.

Best said that the commissioners would need to agree unanimously on any school facilities plan to sell it to the public.

Price said that a 1988 school bond issue was successful because everyone was informed of the issues, and a bond committee spent time educating the public.

"They sold it to Wayne County, along with commissioners, the EDC and the school board," he said. "Everybody's got to be on the team, and be prepared to answer questions."

County Manager Lee Smith will have the county's budget prepared before mid-April, so the commissioners said they plan to hold a one-day retreat with the school board before then to further discuss the issues.