10/17/06 — Duplin gives schools an extra million

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Duplin gives schools an extra million

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 17, 2006 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- It might have been the pictures of the cracked brick walls, the broken steps or the rusted bleachers. It could have been the information that the oldest intercom system in Duplin County schools was installed in the 1950s, while the newest is 12 years old. Or it could have been the knowledge that the school system's teacher, principal and assistant principal supplements are all below the state average.

Whatever the case, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners made a surprise 3 to 1 decision Monday morning to allocate $1 million from its fund balance to the Duplin County School System. The money will be used at the school system's discretion to address the problems outlined by Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby in his presentation to the commissioners.

Doby, who was not even originally on the board's agenda, presented three areas of concern to the commissioners -- school safety, school facilities and supplements.

"I've been here about six months, and I've had time to assess our school system and there are some areas I'm concerned about," he said. "We have cut our budget as much as we can. We have gone through it with a fine-tooth comb."

Because of those cuts, he explained, the problems outlined in these three areas are above and beyond what the school system can afford to fix on its own.

In the area of safety, Doby highlighted the need to upgrade and replace the intercom system to allow teachers to call to the office in case of emergency. He also discussed the need for more security cameras in the halls, parking lots and on the buses, as well as the need for more walkie-talkie radios.

"Kids can't learn if they're not safe," Doby said.

He estimated the intercom systems would cost $600,000 to be installed in all 15 schools, while security cameras would cost another $525,000. To equip the county's 121 school buses with security cameras would cost about $310,000, while 120 needed walkie-talkies would cost a total of $22,000.

Second on Doby's list were the facilities.

"Some of our schools are in terrible condition and something has got to be done about it right away," he said. "Most of (the schools) look dingy and greatly are in need of repair."

Many have not been painted in 10 years or more and many have structural components in need of repair.

He estimated that paint, pressure-washing and minor repairs would cost about $254,000.

"That's not really getting to the heart of the problem, but it would give us a fresh coat of paint, and it would look better," Doby said. "It just makes you feel better. The environment for learning, I think, is very important."

The third area in which he requested the county's assistance Monday was supplements for teachers, principals and assistant principals. Supplements are the amount of money paid by counties above the state-mandated salaries.

"It's tough to recruit and retain people when you can't pay them a competitive wage," Doby said.

Currently in Duplin County, principals receive a $3,333 supplement. The state average is $9,080.

Assistant principals receive $2,200 in Duplin County, while the state average is $5,454.

Teachers in Duplin County are slightly more competative, receiving $2,374, compared to the state average of $2,967.

To raise the county to the state average on all these would cost about $561,000 per year.

"We don't want to be average, though, we want to be above average," Doby said.

Doby also wants to raise the supplements of the school system's classified staff from $300 to $500 -- a move that would cost the county an additional $70,000 per year.

"Our total, in terms of what we need at this time in our school system, is $2,342,000, and it's not a cure-all," Doby said. "I hate to bring these words of bad news to you, but it's just the way it is."

Already this year, the school system has received approximately $6.6 million from the county for general expenditures, $1.45 million in capital outlay and $1.2 million for debt service.

"It's a lot of money, I know," Doby said.

But for the four commissioners at Monday's meeting -- Larry Howard and Zettie Williams were absent -- he made a convincing argument.

With the county's general fund balance -- the county's savings account -- showing a projected balance of approximately $8.6 million (18 percent of the general fund budget), the commissioners decided to make a one-time allocation of $1 million to school system to help meet its needs. Only $5.4 million (12 percent of the general fund budget) is needed in the fund balance.

It was a 3 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Arliss Albertson in opposition.

"We only have four members here, and we're talking about a lot of money," he said. "All this didn't happen overnight, so to address these problems all of a sudden, I think we're out of order. The needs are there, and I understand that. I just think we're doing wrong to do it today."

But the other commissioners agreed with Doby that the school system needs to start addressing these areas immediately.

"We've got the money. I don't think we should wait," Commissioner David Fussell said.

The commissioners also voted, this time unanimously, to direct county's financial staff to work with school officials to figure out how to best utilize another $2 million in a capital reserve fund that the county holds for school capital outlay projects.

But with $1 million in hand, Doby said he's anxious to begin addressing some of the problems he discussed Monday.

"Now we just have to sit down and talk about our priorities," he said.