09/26/06 — Conditions top list in southern Wayne

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Conditions top list in southern Wayne

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 26, 2006 1:54 PM

School conditions were the topic of conversation Monday as the fourth in a series of six public meetings designed to help set the facilities future for Wayne County schools headed to the southern end of the county.

More than 100 residents and advisory council members attended Monday night's community meeting at Southern Wayne High School.

Many of those in attendance voiced concerns about the condition of area schools, but added that they are relieved the Facilities Master Team is taking steps to improve facilities -- and some vowed to support the effort financially.

"We all have concerns and you have a monumental job ahead of you," James Cox told the Facilities Master Team, which consists of Board of Education and Board of Commissioners members. "If you come up with a bond, we'll do everything in our power to make it happen. You'll have our support 100 percent."

The Southern Wayne community meeting was the fourth of six facilities meetings held at high schools across the county. The purpose of the meetings is to inform each feeder group what plans are proposed for that area in the school board's five-year $90 facilities plan. The facilities master team is considering all options for funding the plan, including a bond referendum next May.

The schools involved in Monday night's meeting were Southern Wayne, Brogden Primary, Carver Elementary, Mount Olive Middle, Southern Academy, Brogden Middle and Grantham.

The school board created the $90 million plan as a part of an Evergreen Solutions facilities report, which was completed in May. Evergreen Solutions was hired by the county to assess the schools' facilities needs.

The format for each community meeting is the same. Wayne County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor begins each meeting by welcoming attendees and making general comments about the process that led to that night's meeting.

Then, Sprunt Hill, the schools' assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, discusses an overview of the facilities plan process and what is proposed in the five-year plan for that feeder area.

After the introduction, advisory council members for each school in that feeder pattern can make comments or ask the facilities master plan team questions. Unlike previous community meetings, advisory council members made comments, but didn't ask board members any questions.

Following the advisory council comments, the general public can make comments to the board, but can't ask questions. Instead, facilities master team members take notes on each comment and consider those changes in the school board's five-year plan.

Some residents who attended Monday's meeting were not satisfied with attending the meeting and not being able to ask questions of the facilities team.

"I'm sorry it's a no comment meeting," said Johnnie Barnes. "As a taxpayer and a citizen, I want feedback. I came to this meeting and I'm very disappointed. I'm very disappointed. I pay taxes, and I think I'm entitled to that."

County Commissioner Jack Best said after the meeting that he wants to hear questions from the public and be able to respond. Without that feedback, Best said it is a "meeting without a meaning."

The format for each meeting was approved by Taylor and County Manager Lee Smith prior to the first community meeting at Charles B. Aycock High School, Taylor said. He added that the format was also presented to both boards prior to the Charles B. Aycock meeting.

Taylor said both boards will decide the best way to answer the public's questions after the community meetings are finished. If residents have any questions about a school or issue, Taylor said those questions could be addressed to a school principal or to administrators.

Until the community meetings are finished, Taylor said the facilities master team will retain the format used at Charles B. Aycock, Spring Creek, Goldsboro High and Southern Wayne.

Audience member Callie Grady told facilities master team members they should spend more time at each school to gain a better understanding of the problems each faces.

"A walkthrough or a one-day visit is not enough time to see the needs. I'm there every day, and they have a lot of needs," Mrs. Grady said.

Mrs. Grady, who has two children at Brogden Primary and was selected as the school's volunteer of the year, said there are two major problems facing the school.

First, teachers are in desperate need of teaching assistants, but those positions are continually cut, Mrs. Grady said.

"I see the teachers and the stress put on them. A lot of them would deny it to save face, but I see it," she said.

Also, the growing amount of Hispanic children in the county's southern schools is becoming a problem, Mrs. Grady said. Many of those children can't speak English, and the schools need more English as a Second Language teachers to teach them English so they can keep up with their classmates.

The facilities plan calls for about $4 million in improvements for Brogden Primary. Hill said some of the improvements include maintenance and upgrades, along with an upgrade to the area where students are dropped off by parents or buses. Since there isn't much parking in front of Brogden Primary, Hill said the facilities master team is considering $50,000 to make dropping off students easier and quicker.

A majority of the $4 million would be used to build a 21,702-square-foot multi-purpose room for students, Hill said. The room would serve as a cafetorium, which could hold a gymnasium and cafeteria with a removable wall so students wouldn't be disturbed during lunch.

A new cafetorium is needed because the school's existing cafeteria is two feet below the Brogden Primary parking lot and the room floods after a downpour, Hill said.

The problems facing the Grantham school are becoming worse by the day, Grantham advisory council member David Bunch said. In Grantham, the elementary school also serves as a junior high, teaching about 900 students in a building meant for 870.

"We struggle every day. Our sewer system is so bad that we can't add capacity," Bunch said.

There is no longer room for students in the classrooms and guidance counselors no longer have office space because the children need more room, he added.

To alleviate the pressure on the Grantham school, the facilities plan calls for a new $14.5 million, 124,000-square-foot Grantham Middle School. The school will hold about 750 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, Hill said.

Residents also brought up other issues during the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting.

Lyn Lambert, a Charles B. Aycock advisory council member, told the facilities master team that he and his wife chose to raise their family in Wayne County and want to be able to raise their children in good schools. But he doesn't believe good schools will be created by redrawing the school district lines, which has been discussed for the county's central attendance area.

Terry Best said he also believes redistricting is not the answer for Wayne County schools.

"If you look at the entire future of schools, you can't focus on one area and forget the others," he said.

Terry Best added that he believes people will support a bond referendum, but not if their children are being bused out of their community to another school.

The next community meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Rosewood High School for the Rosewood feeder group.