11/30/05 — County, district eye facilities plan

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County, district eye facilities plan

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 30, 2005 1:51 PM

A consultant's proposal to conduct a financial and facilities plan for Wayne County Public Schools could translate into light at the end of a struggle between county commissioners and the school board, or prolong the agony for a school system long overdue in completing maintenance projects, county and school officials say.

At a joint meeting of the two boards Tuesday night, Evergreen Solutions, LLC, a Florida-based consulting firm solicited by county commissioners, made a pitch for its services in Wayne County.

President Linda Recio laid out a plan that would include gathering data, interviews and building visits before findings would be presented to both boards for consideration.

"We have no preconceived notion to where your school system is because we haven't studied it yet," she said.

Mrs. Recio said a five-member team would be brought in to do the study, which she estimated could take up to six months.

Some school board members balked at the potential delay in completing a growing list of facilities projects.

"We're looking at another year" without making progress on the school system's needs, board chairman Lehman Smith said.

Many county governments are faced with declining resources and increasing school funding requests, Mrs. Recio said.

"It's a critical issue and an issue that we have seen in many dependent school districts throughout the country," she said.

County Manager Lee Smith said, "This is a two-edged sword. They (school board) need the funds and we may find out we have not funded them properly."

School board member Pete Gurley asked whether the consultant's role included finding funding sources for the plan needs. Mrs. Recio said that the firm could look for alternate sources, but that was not its primary objective.

"We have been shooting in the dark," Gurley said. "What you need to know is, every plan that we have prepared and sent, we have not had any number to work with. We didn't have a budget."

Commissioners said they are aware of the needs in the school system and are optimistic that findings from an unbiased source will be mutually beneficial.

"I just hope everyone can be patient until it's done," commissioner Atlas Price said.

Lee Smith asked the consultants to have an initial report to county commissioners by Friday, in time for discussion at the commission's next meeting on Tuesday.

"We would like concurrence from the school board and then we can move forward," Smith said. "We will be able to bridge the gap between us by how we work in the future."

At the outset, Lehman Smith said his board would not be ready to make a commitment without further thought and discussion. The school board's next meeting will be Monday, Dec. 12.

"My gut reaction is maybe it will be good," he said. "Everything she said, in our board development, we have already heard the same thing at seminars, and we have implemented it. It meshes with what we're doing, but not what we can finance. It all goes back to the county commissioners for funding."

Board member John Grantham said when he read through the information ahead of time, two aspects of the presentation leapt out at him.

"One, we're doing that already," he said. "And two, why could you do it better than we can? I think it would be a case of cherry-picking, each board having a tendency to pick out things that they like and hang their hat on that."

While Mrs. Recio said she intended to work closely with both boards, the fact that the consulting firm would be hired by the commissioners lends itself to speculation that the findings could be slanted, board members said.

"You folks, you're going to really look at it from an objective standpoint?" Gurley asked.

"Our reputation depends on that," Mrs. Recio replied.