07/22/05 — Duplin commissioners, school board debate proposed building plan

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Duplin commissioners, school board debate proposed building plan

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 22, 2005 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners clashed Thursday night over a proposed $43 million school building plan.

The plan calls for a $30 million high school for students in the Warsaw, Kenansville and B.F. Grady school districts. A new $10.8 million elementary school would house children from pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade. James Kenan High would become a middle school for grades 6-8, and almost $1.9 million worth of additions would be made at Charity Middle School.

School Board Chairman Emily Manning told commissioners the proposed plan is the result of compromise and listening to the wishes of the parents living in the districts involved.

"It's not a perfect plan, not a plan that makes everybody happy," she said. "We know the tax dollars are few. But we desperately need to find a way to make this a reality for our children."

School Superintendent Tommy Benson told commissioners the building plan is the best way to relieve classroom overcrowding, improve student performance and recruit and keep good teachers.

"We feel good facilities will attract good teachers and the kind of newcomers we want in Duplin County," Benson said. "The new high school would be the most racially balanced school in the county."

Discussion of the plan and its costs often grew heated. Commissioner Chairman Reginald Wells had to strike his gavel more than once to restore order.

School board member Graham Phillips of Wallace accused commissioners of not accepting their responsibility for coming up with a way to fund the school board's plan. There are several options, he said, noting that other counties have sold bonds to pay for new schools .

"It's your job now," he said.

Commissioner Larry Howard of Mount Olive said he opposes the school's proposed building plan.

He said the proposed plan places 745 students in one high school while leaving 290 in another, after the state has recommended a small high school with no more than 400 students.

"Nobody on this board is more ready to do something for education than I am," he said. "And when you present a plan to me that is best for the students, I'll fund it."

"How long is it going to take before the new high school has 1,000 students in it?" Howard said. "We misjudged B.F. Grady badly. How much have we misjudged this one?"

Wells reminded commissioners of their promises to help improve schools in the county.

"It's now time to put up or shut up," he said. "We all know if we want to do better, education has got to be better."

Commissioner David Fussell of Wallace said it would take a 14-cent tax increase to pay for the proposed school building plan.

"The tax rate would go from the current 77 cents that people are already protesting to 91.6 cents," Fussell said. "I don't think our people can stand it."

"However you do it," he said, "it's going to come down to a tax increase."

Commissioner L.S. Guy of Faison told the school board that commissioners need to understand the plan so they can sell the idea to the people, unless they decide the county can't afford it.