08/29/06 — Growth is main concern for north end parents

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Growth is main concern for north end parents

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 29, 2006 1:56 PM

School overcrowding in the northern end and the need for immediate relief were among the main concerns expressed at a community forum Monday night hosted by the Master Facilities Plan team.

The committee, which includes representatives from the school board and county commission, launched its six-part series of meetings that will take place over the coming weeks at each of the county's public high schools to address construction needs and funding for them.

Monday evening's session was held at Charles B. Aycock High School, but also included its feeder schools -- Fremont Stars Elementary, Northeast and Northwest elementary schools, Norwayne Middle, and Belfast Academy. Advisory councils from each as well as community members attended the 90-minute forum.

An estimated 200 people packed the cafeteria at the high school to listen to the school system's proposed $90 million facilities plan as it pertains to the northern end of the county. Afterwards, they got to weigh in with their own views.

Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, said the input from the community was essential to the process.

"We'll consider every comment that you make," he said.

Taylor said the Board of Education has worked on facilities plans for about six years, ranging from $58 million to $273 million, before settling on its latest, a $90 million, five-year plan. After all the communities are heard from, the next step will be hearing from committees that are being appointed to delve deeper into some of the areas.

Following that, he said, recommendations will be made to the school board so they can decide what the facilities plan will be.

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said all the work being done currently is in line with the dictates of Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm hired by the commission to assess the school system's needs.

"This is not to start and finish next week. This is from now on," he explained. "If we go in this with the right attitude -- and I think we are -- this is a living document."

That means there will be continual updates as projects are completed and other needs addressed, he said.

"If you see a zero by a school, that does not mean we have left you completely out of the picture," he said. "That means there are some other (situations) that could happen down the road."

There are advantages to creating a five-year plan, as well as involving the public and working together with the commission, Hill said.

"Then when we send a request over, Mr. (county manager Lee) Smith and his board will already know what we have looked at and what we hope to accomplish in the future," he said.

During Hill's presentation, he said $37 million of the $90 million plan is earmarked for the northern area. The breakdown is for Charles B. Aycock High School and Norwayne Middle School to each receive $6 million for renovation projects that include additional classrooms. The remainder includes $10.5 million for a new elementary school and $14.5 million for a new middle school, both designed to handle the overflow being generated by the ongoing population shift affecting that part of the county.

But what about the immediate effects of overcrowding, some asked. Several from the advisory councils and the audience echoed the need for the boards to take action sooner rather than later.

Congestion at the elementary schools during arrival and dismissal times, capacity crowds in the hallways and cafeteria at the high school were among the pressing needs that require resolution, some said.

Hill said he has regularly spoken with principals about the ongoing problems.

"Our biggest thing to relieve the overcrowding is to build a new middle school as quickly as possible," he said. As for the high school, he said the proposed additional 20 classrooms would help, but added that he does not think the school system will ever be able to entirely do away with having trailers on the grounds. At present, Aycock is using 14 of the units, while Norwayne has seven and Northwest has 11.

Butch Bennett said he was there to "encourage people of the sense of urgency."

He said his wife currently teaches at Aycock, where his son graduated and his daughter is presently a student. His wife "walks around with a cart" because she does not have a base classroom, he said, and he changed his plans to teach in the school system this year because of insufficient science classrooms.

"We're talking about a five-year plan that should have been done five years ago," he said. "Parents, stay on this. We need to have a sense of urgency. It's only going to get worse as the county grows."

Jerry Sheets said if a good plan was laid out, it would work better if there was more control over growth in the county. In the community surrounding Northwest Elementary, where there is a lot of farmland that could be purchased to build subdivisions, which just lends itself to further overcrowding.

Charles Wright lobbied for redistricting and ending the school system's "open door policy."

"It seems like common sense to shift the district line a little bit and give Goldsboro High School the 365 students so that you have 365 less (at Aycock) to use their parking lot and cafeteria," he said.

"If all we're going to do is build new schools and have the same open door policy, we can be right back here in 10 years. ... I really think we need to address in the long-range, or we are just wasting our time."

Redistricting is not the answer, Linda Raynor said.

"The population explosion started on further down" toward Goldsboro and gradually spilled into the northern end of the county, she said.
"I say go ahead with the plan, give us our schools and let our children be safe and happy every day at school."

Neal Stitt, representing the Advocates of Wayne County, presented four ideas for consideration. He expressed hope that they be addressed as presentations are made throughout the county. The ideas included working toward closing the achievement gap for all students, redistricting, hiring a sufficient number of certified and qualified teachers and whether or not the proposed plan would result in increased taxes.

Jimmy Herring is on the advisory council for Northwest Elementary, but said he was speaking independently. His wife is a teacher at Aycock, he said, and recalled a similar meeting at the school two years ago to express the same concerns.

"This has been very frustrating, very disheartening," he said. "It's almost to the point of embarrassing."

Suggesting that other school districts are finding solutions to such problems, Herring said there are options that could be done in the interim.

"Fourteen mobile units, 12 roving teachers at Charles B. Aycock, so we're already behind the eight-ball," he said. "We're way backwards instead of looking forward."

Herring asked the board to do what needs to be done based on the information and "not let this be a political yo-yo. You can't legislate where people live. You have to build the facilities where the people are."

Dave Thomas previously worked at Aycock and said all five of his children graduated from there.

"I really support this facility plan for the northern end," he said, adding that he especially agreed with the urgency to construct two new schools to offset some of the problems.

Devon Sheets of Fremont had only one request -- air conditioning at Fremont Stars Elementary School.

"We went to graduation exercises and it was so hot in that auditorium that we could barely stay in there. I ask if you could any way possible, get some air conditioning in that building so that children there could do a better job learning," he said.

Response from the officials was minimal, although a few chose to make remarks.

School board member Lehman Smith said previous meetings to address the situation in the northern end had been conducted with the best of intentions. Finding the funding continues to be the main problem, he said, noting that the commission has a lot of mandates that many are unaware.

The Board of Education is not the funding agency, though, said school board member Pete Gurley.

"As soon as the county commissioners give us the green light, I promise you this Board of Education is ready to go," he said. "We're aware that this is, no question, the growingest area in the county...We stand ready to move. We have got the plan."

No funding sources have been determined, but Gurley brought up the notion of a bond. In order for that to pass, though, he said it would require more than the two boards to make it work.

"We need to realize it's going to take everybody in Wayne County and of course, everybody's got to have a piece of the pie," he said.

Commissioner John Bell said, "In order to sell a bond, it's got to be sold to the people of Wayne County, not just the people of the northern end."

County Manager Lee Smith said before deciding how to raise funds, the tax impact must also be considered. There is also the need to look at things broadly, he said, for the whole county and not just one area.

"This is going to be very emotional," he said of the process. "I think we base all our decisions on the big picture.

"The one thing I'm thrilled about is that we're all sitting down together. This is a continuous process. I'm glad we're in a growth mode but now we're going to feel the growing pains."