07/03/06 — School board wants to get facilities moving

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School board wants to get facilities moving

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 3, 2006 1:54 PM

School officials say it's taken long enough to get facilities projects started, and they will do whatever it takes to get a bond referendum on the ballot.

County commissioners last week announced their interest in selling bonds to raise money for school construction, stopping short of specifying how they would do that. At its June meeting, the Board of Education submitted a resolution supporting a bond referendum.

The commission has the authority to place the issue on the ballot, with final approval coming from the county's voters.

So far, there has been no official movement taken by the two boards toward starting the process. The county attorney has said a master committee would be formed to do a cost assessment of school projects and to determine the county's funding options.

School board Chairman John P. Grantham said he has already appointed a facilities committee in compliance with a report recently completed by Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm hired by the commission to look at the school system's needs. But that group is geared to look at facilities and budgetary needs, not the bond referendum, he said.

"We're planning to go by the recommendations of Evergreen, but don't feel like that should hold up the process," he said. "Entertaining the idea of putting a bond referendum out there should not be dependent on putting together a committee now because we have already got a plan out there for roughly $90 million."

The school board also submitted a five-year facilities plan, another recommendation from Evergreen, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said. While the board plans to comply with any requests from the commission, Taylor said the school board wants to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible.

"I think they made that clear with the resolution, but we can't move any quicker than the process will allow," he said. "What we're trying to do is look at the framework Evergreen has suggested. Certainly, we are working with the county commissioners to get that done."

It's admittedly a different approach for the school system "because we have not done it this way before," Taylor said.

Taylor also said that while it has taken a long time to reach this point, he is appreciative that the two boards are working toward a common goal.

"I certainly feel better than I have in a long time. We're moving and working together, and that's important," he said.

The bottom line, though, is that it will take money to accomplish the projects.

"We have to look at creative ways to do that," Taylor said, whether that entails a bond referendum or state lottery money.

"The availability of money will dictate most of what we do. We have got some legwork to do before we put it on the ballot."

Several sources of funding have already been bandied about -- privatization, certificates of participation, as well as the bond referendum. School board member Pete Gurley said whatever is chosen, "we would just like to see something. We do need to get started."

Board member Lehman Smith expressed frustration that the process continues to drag on.

"I feel like we should have done it a year ago. I don't see any reason we couldn't have started some of (the schools projects)," he said.

Smith said the school board already completed a list of building needs.

"Evergreen looked at our building plan and said it looks good. I'm not sure what else (commissioners) want," he said. "Everybody knows what we need in the northern end of the county particularly. I'm not sure why the commissioners couldn't just go ahead and make the decision. They have really waited long enough."

Perhaps it's because his background is in private business, but Smith said, "I'm not used to going through all the hoops. I'm used to making a decision and going with it."

His preference would be to put it to a public vote, he said.

"We'll do whatever we need to do as a board, I know that, in order to get the bond referendum on the ballot," he said, adding that he is still concerned that projects will be delayed for yet another year.

Grantham agreed, taking it one step further. He would like to see it appear on the November ballot, even though the commission has indicated it is not likely.

"I would like to see a special referendum for it," Grantham said. "I think people that care about education would make an extra effort to get out and vote on it. If you're already there voting, check yes or no."

Grantham said if it can't be done in November, he would favor a special ballot, similar to when there is a run-off election. He said he believes the issue would have a good chance of passing.

"At least people would have to make an effort to get out and say what they think. It would give you a good idea one way or another of what they think, if they take the time to get out and vote," he said.