12/13/05 — School board worried over contract wording

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School board worried over contract wording

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 13, 2005 1:49 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education is holding off on approving a contract to hire a consultant to study school building needs.

The school board, set to approve a consultant's proposal Monday night, instead drafted a statement of its position regarding the proposal and the county Board of Commissioners' involvement.

The proposal by Evergreen Solutions was approved last week by the commissioners, pending approval by the school board. But school board members said Monday they were concerned about the wording of commissioners' motion to approve the contract, made at the commissioners' Dec. 6 meeting.

The board drafted a statement regarding its position and was to deliver it to County Manager Lee Smith today. The statement said school board members would consider approving the proposal as it was presented to them at a joint meeting Nov. 30., "if the approval by the Board of Commissioners is revised to remove the additional conditions contained in their action of Dec. 6."

The two boards met Nov. 30 and seemed to have reached agreement on how to proceed.

But school board members said commissioners have changed their intent.

"The way it came out is not at all like it was in the (joint) meeting," said board member George Moye. "In the meeting, we were assured that the study would be independent and free of influence."

Moye said the wording of the commissioners' motion at the Dec. 6 meeting indicated that commissioners would have some say in how the review would be conducted. The commissioners' motion said a study of redistricting and racial imbalances in school districts should be a part of the study.

School board member Rick Pridgen said he believes commissioners have done an about-face.

"I feel like it compromised what we set out to do. I don't feel like we're any closer to getting this facilities plan than when I got on the board. Everything I see seems like another stall tactic," Pridgen said.

Pridgen and school board member Shirley Sims said they were unable to vote for the proposal in light of the perceived differences in objectives.

New school board Chairman John Grantham read the statement to his fellow board members.

"The approval would be conditioned on the study being presented by Evergreen Solutions, LLC without further conditions or directives from either board and with the understanding that the study would be conducted independently and without any influence or pressure from the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and its staff or the Wayne County Board of Education and its staff. Upon completion of the study, the board would review the findings and recommendations in order to implement those items that the Board of Education determined to be in the best interest of the Wayne County Public Schools."

School board member Pete Gurley said he still has trouble agreeing with the commissioners' decision to hire a consultant at the cost of $120,000 to study how to best build schools in the county. Gurley said the money could be better used to help the schools maintain existing buildings.

"As I see it, it's a four-step program," he said. "In order to put a building program in place, county commissioners give us an amount to work with, go to the people for suggestions, put a plan together with the help of the people in Wayne County and by the people of Wayne County, and then, we need to move on.

"We should have done this four years ago. We'd have already been in our buildings, using them."

Ms. Sims agreed with Gurley. It is "senseless to spend $120,000 for somebody to come and tell you what you already know. Stop belaboring this while our children are suffering and they're not men enough to say that they want," she said.

Grantham said it is frustrating to continue to lose time volleying the issue back and forth between the two boards.

"We ultimately know we're going to lose four, five, six months to complete the study only to debate with the county commissioners all over again and probably lose at least eight months, maybe a year without doing anything," he said.