11/08/05 — Schools send new plan to commission

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Schools send new plan to commission

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 8, 2005 1:52 PM

A fourth version of the Wayne County Public Schools' long-range facility plan is being readied for delivery to the county commissioners, with hopes that it will get the go-ahead or at least guidance on what the commissioners will fund.

During Monday night's Board of Education meeting, the seven-member group expressed continued frustration over the amount of time it has taken to appease requests for a priority list from county commissioners. Board members said it has been disheartening to see plans approved, only to fall by the wayside before being implemented.

Board Chairman Lehman Smith said it has been frustrating to ride around the county and see some of the dilapidated school buildings, especially after having promised the communities he serves that improvements would be made.

Reading from a prepared statement, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the process has been a long one, with the list of needs mounting.

Some of the projects date as far back as 1996, when there were state bond funds and additional funding from commissioners, he said. At that time, the Board of Education began working on a new long-range facility plan.

Since 2002, he said, the board has developed and revised plans totaling $58 million, $41 million and $82 million, all which have been approved and forwarded to the Board of Commissioners for funding.

"With no action having been taken with regard to funding options for these plans, our last direction from the county manager was to develop a 20-year-plus long-range plan including operational costs and deferred maintenance with no budget cap set to work within," he said.

The Board of Education and school officials feel they have completed the task, and Monday might approved a plan being delivered to commissioners for consideration.

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, described the plan as a school-by-school projection of what will be needed on a priority basis, divided by timeline. Priority one items are those that must be done within the next five years; priorities two and three are projects that can be staggered between years 6-10 and 11-20, respectively, he said.

The figures, once made public, will seem very high, Hill said. He explained that the detailed plan is not a "wish list," but contains a lot of projects considered maintenance, such as electrical upgrades and roof repairs, as well as things that are mandated, such as installing grease traps.

Dr. Taylor said that given the cost of construction expenses and items associated to them, "it is likely that the total amount of funding needed will not be available.

"Understanding that, it is imperative that the Board of Education be given a dollar amount to work within by the Board of County Commissioners so that the Board of Education can then go back to this master plan and prioritize as needed."

Taylor said he expects there will be questions and concerns. Once the amount of funding available is set, though, the board can better determine the priority order of projects, he said.

Despite the plan having been stalled several times, Taylor said, prices for the projects have not.

"We all know the longer we wait, the higher the costs of construction," he said. "In fact, since working through four plans starting in 2002, the cost of construction has increased by around 30 percent."

Board member Rick Pridgen said he was not entirely comfortable with the plan, but would support the board by voting for it.

He said it has been frustrating spending so much time on developing a plan that has not been implemented. The public has also been very patient, he said.

"But unless we have a direction, we're not going to get anything accomplished," he said.

Board member Shirley Sims said she had purposely refrained from making public comments as she had been advised not to say anything that might affect the board's case.

"But up to now we haven't been receiving anything," she said. "We can't get less than we have already received."

She said the process has been "a long mess," comparing it to dodgeball games she remembered watching in the 1930s and 1940s.

"(It's like) running back and forth from one thing to another without getting any kind of response from the commissioners," she said.

She said it is time to stop playing games with the lives of the boys and girls in Wayne County and decide what can be done to move the school system ahead.

Board member Pete Gurley said he would like to see the plan approved by the county commissioners and for the school district to receive a figure it could work with.

"We have done and done and done and have got absolutely nothing at this point," he said.

Smith said the board has come full circle over the past four years, sending a plan virtually every year and having it returned without any action being taken. Still, he holds out hope and tries to remain optimistic.

"We're sending this building plan, sending it in good faith," he said. "I look forward to working with the commissioners. I believe that the county commissioners can meet with us and we can meet with them."