09/18/05 — District eyes $130 million facilities plan

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District eyes $130 million facilities plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 18, 2005 2:04 AM

The Board of Education put new high schools in Grantham and Mount Olive back on its facilities plan Thursday night, along with suggestions to build a new elementary and middle school in the northern end of the county. The $129.8 million proposal was not put to a vote as it awaits inclusion of operational costs.

During the four-hour work session to revise the plan that will be submitted to the Wayne County Commissioners, the seven-member board struggled between needs and wants and frustration over what commissioners might fund.

"Are we charged with trying to guess what somebody's going to give us or with what we need?" board member George Moye asked.

"The needs are so great in Wayne County," said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools. "We've never been given a set amount and are not sure how much money we're talking about."

He said the commissioners asked for a list of the most most pressing needs, and in some type of order. The board divided its list into priorities one, two and three.

Board member Shirley Sims said the board had been at the table many times for the same reason, with many options given to accomplish funding, such as bonds and raising taxes. And each time, the commissioners have sent the facilities plan back unfunded.

"What kind of limitations do we have today?" she asked. "There's no need to keep sending it if they're going to cut it off."

"We know that we're not going to get money to meet all our needs," Moye said. "But given the fact that we don't levy taxes, we don't collect taxes, do we need to be thinking in terms of coming up with a plan that we think they'll fund, or put down what we need for our kids?"

Several suggestions were given to manage population explosions in the northern end of the county, among them adding 10 new classrooms at Fremont Elementary to take care of the overflow from Northeast and Northwest elementary schools.

Discussion ensued over whether to do widespread renovations or to create new schools.

"Are we still interested in small schools or not?" Moye asked. "Are we abandoning the idea completely of small schools? The way we have got priority one's does not support small schools."

Board member Thelma Smith said the county cannot sustain too many more schools.

"We talked about the small school concept, but you have got to staff them, have a whole new administration," she said. "If we continue to grow, I would hope we would at least fix the problems that we see presently."

Several times during the meeting, Mrs. Smith also mentioned the notion of redrawing district lines. She said neighboring Pitt County is currently doing that so that districts will have a 70-30 diversity ratio in every school.

"It's a bold step but they have done it," she said.

Additional classrooms at Charles B. Aycock High and Norwayne Middle were proposed, and Lehman Smith said at some point in the future, there will be a need to divide Spring Creek High School, currently housing grades 6-12, to accommodate growth there.

Board member John Grantham suggested the board consider gradually making Grantham a 6-12 school, in the same way the concept was introduced at Spring Creek High, and build a new elementary school to offset travel for students in the Grantham area.

At its regular meeting Monday night, the board approved the right to purchase 46 acres of land between N.C. 13 and Loop Road as a possible school site. The board is also considering land options in other parts of the county.

Lehman Smith said he preferred not to disclose further details until discussions progressed toward making a formal deal.

Once the notion of a new school was introduced, the previously tabled suggestions of community schools for Grantham as well as Mount Olive were re-introduced, at an estimated price tag of $21 million each.

Proposed elementary and middle schools in the northern end of the county were ticketed at $11 million and $14.5 million, respectively.

Without being given constraints by the commissioners, the board vacillated between keeping the numbers low and coming up with an all-inclusive list. Moye said if the commissioners were only going to fund a certain amount, they would stick to the amount no matter what plan was presented to them.

The board agreed that the nearly $130 million plan was higher than they had initially planned.

"I'm not sure we anticipated this when we came in," Moye said. "The most important thing to me personally is, have we asked for the things that we need?"

Lehman Smith said that realistically, he had thought the figure would have been closer to $50 million.

"We got clean away from what I thought we would have done tonight," he said.

Most felt it was a positive work session.

"It might not have ended up like we thought," said Ms. Sims. "Some things we have got to ask for ... (we've) got to work for the needs in our communities."

Moye said when the board was asked to redo the plan, there were no suggested price constraints.

"I don't believe anybody in Wayne County believes that the taxpayers can afford $130 million," he said. "I don't think anybody around this table thinks that's in the cards. However, we were asked to come up with our needs."
Moye said he expects the plan will be trimmed drastically once it comes under the commissioners' review, but that doesn't negate its legitimacy.

"I think it's a good plan," he said. "I think we have done a good job with it. These are our needs."

Board member Pete Gurley said, "Hopefully when this is presented, maybe the commissioners will give us a number that we can realistically work with."

"It's been an interesting night," Taylor said as the meeting concluded. "A lot of hard work has gone into where we are now."

Taylor stressed the plan is preliminary and still requires calculating the operational costs and equipment figures. It also needs to be voted upon at the next board before being forwarded to commissioners for consideration.

Taylor also asked the board to keep in mind further discussion about programs, especially in the central attendance areas. He made reference to possible programs that might be offered to attract students to the schools and said the board would pose the question to commissioners.