02/20/06 — Grantham: It's time for a plan

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Grantham: It's time for a plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 20, 2006 1:52 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a four-part series examining the debate over funding for Wayne County school facilities improvement. In addition to Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor's answers Sunday and today's responses from School Board Chairman John Grantham, County Manager Lee Smith and Wayne County Commission Chairman Atlas Price were also asked to contribute their thoughts on the issue.

1. How will a facilities plan be funded?

I would like to see the county commissioners go for a bond issue. That would be my preference. If not, another thing I would like to see them do is use the lottery money to see how much we could amortize using the $2.8 million estimated annual (lottery) money for Wayne County, combined with what the commissioners would give us.

I would really rather have a bond referendum so people could vote on it. Combination of the two -- we could come up with a facilities plan to use that money.

2. Why hasn't there been any movement with regard to funding a bond referendum before now?

I wouldn't think that there's going to be any movement until the study is done. That's the main reason right now.

3. The county commissioners claim you're not giving all the information. How do you respond to that? Are you being forthright? Do you take the time to get the information?

I think we have been doing that all along. The biggest thing I have a problem understanding is why, whenever they do need more information -- we have been giving them all the information -- why would you hold it for several months and say you need more information? If you needed more information, why not go on and ask for it? It's like we give them the information and they hold on to it for several months and then ask for more.

4. What about the fund balance?

Ever since I have been on the board (1994), it's been a consensus that we needed a minimum of $2 million to $2.5 million fund balance. They have repeatedly said, "We're not going to give you more money when you're sitting on a fund balance of almost $3 million."

They're asking us to put ourselves in jeopardy. You don't expect to operate on that kind of fund balance. Even our auditor brought that out. It's a pretty small fund balance for a system like ours.

They have always harped on our spending down the fund balance. It's about as low as it's ever been since I have been on the board.

It always seems like they don't understand their financial situation. We don't even know where the figures come from (what's available). It seems like that's the biggest thing (for the school board, and it may even be a unanimous feeling). We feel like the real message that we're getting is not that we need more information but "we don't like this plan, and if you'll come up with a plan that we like, we'll come up with the money."

5. If you could ask the county commissioners three things about the budgeting process and the facilities debate, what information would you want that you have not received?

We really need to know how much we can expect and over what period of time. That's the only way we can have a plan that we can build around.

How much money you have available determines what you can do.

We can do Band-Aid fixes. If we had enough money, we could do some things to be proactive and build facilities for future growth instead of putting mobile units and being at capacity a year later.

We're not even able to keep up with the needs, much less projects for growth right now.

6. Do you trust the county to handle this issue properly?

Eventually, I don't know what kind of time frame it's going to be, but I think it will.

If they don't have it soon, the voters will clean house.

7. Does the school system really want a relationship with the commissioners? How is what you're saying at meetings, etc. fostering a relationship with them?

I think the most important thing is people need to be candid. I think they also need to be honest and know what they're talking about when they speak.

I think everything else would work out. I don't think anybody wants animosity between the two boards.

If you don't have candor and honesty and knowledge when you're speaking, it just incites ill feelings. When someone makes disparaging comments, it's bad enough when you're speaking from knowledge, but when you're just shooting from the hip, it really creates animosity.

We had a rocky time with the county commissioners when I first came on the board and then we had a period there for several years that we had a pretty good relationship with them. I guess up until the last bond issue (in 1996). Since then, the relationship has deteriorated.

(Part of it is because of the cutbacks.) They have created a bind for county government. They're having to be more particular where they're spending their money. But we're already bare bones, don't have a lot of fat to cut out.

Unfunded mandates and cuts from the state -- it sort of went downhill from there

But schools are an area where you have to be careful how you make your cuts. That's your future.

8. Would you be open to a joint meeting with the commissioners and would you be interested in bringing the issues into a public forum?

No. I don't think it would be beneficial to have a joint meeting because we have already had meetings with them. We have toured all the schools with them. We have had some joint meetings. They're not productive. We're the only ones that really have the finger on the pulse.

At the same time, we can put out a plan, take it out to the public in the county and let them see what it's all about.

When we had the '96 bond referendum, we went to the schools in the county, took questions and explained it to them.

People can see the need in their communities. So they don't have the need to get involved in the rest of it. The only way a bond referendum is going to pass, is if people feel there's something in it for everybody and we make them aware of others' needs.

9. How far would the $120,000 (being used for the consultant) go if it had instead been given to the school system?

It's hard to say because $120,000 spread out over the system wouldn't buy you a lot. It just goes against the grain when they're going to ask us questions and play back our answers. There are needs in all the schools. Fundraising is already being done (for computers, for classrooms).

$120,000 of tax money is nothing to be wasted, and we sort of felt like it was wasted.

Prices of construction have gone up 30-40 percent. You're talking about extra whole schools (when it translates). But nobody could foresee that. It's possible that steel prices could come down.

The main thing we want to do is go ahead and get the study done and find out what they have gleaned from that study.

If the study confirms what we feel like it should, there's got to be some good to come out of the study. There's got to be some points that we all agree on, and the ones that we all agree on, we can move ahead on.