01/29/07 — Officials: All grads don't have right skills

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Officials: All grads don't have right skills

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 29, 2007 1:49 PM

The Wayne County public schools are turning out too many graduates who are not prepared to enter the workforce or to continue their education at a higher level, Wayne's Board of Commissioners said at their annual retreat Friday.

Commissioners, discussing the facility needs of the school system, said they could not dissociate physical needs from those inside the classroom.

"We should be able to demand that the school system gets better," Commissioner Jack Best told the rest of the board during their annual retreat Friday.

School officials have said the county needs $90 million in construction to bring its schools up to par. The two boards, one charged with ensuring a good education for all students and the other with overseeing the county's spending, have yet to come together on a plan.

County Manager Lee Smith said he has been told by several local business owners and college educators that many Wayne high school graduates do not display the skills they should have upon completion of their education.

Their comments echo those of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has threatened to order the closing of nearly 20 high schools across the state for poor performance. Manning said at a public forum last month in Rocky Mount that many graduates from schools in eastern North Carolina must possess the essentials of English, science and math if the region's economy is to flourish.

Industrial leaders have told county economic development officials that some potential employees did not know how to read, write or solve basic math problems after graduating from Wayne County high schools, Smith told commissioners. Wayne Community College educators have also told county officials that some of their students have not learned the basic skills needed to be good employees, he added. Some of the students had to receive remedial education before continuing the lessons in the college's two-year programs.

Commissioner Atlas Price, a former member of the school board, said the education system tries to force students to attend a college when many need alternative types of education. Price said the county schools should focus more on expanding vocational education courses. The number of trained tradesmen, such as plumbers, mechanics, electricians and carpenters, continues to shrink, Price said. But some of those skills-based jobs earn higher wages than what some younger adults receive after graduating from college, he pointed out.

"I'd vote on school buildings anytime, if the skills were in place," Commissioner John Bell said.

If more children graduate from Wayne County schools with a balanced education, residents would be more supportive of improving school facilities, Price said.

"If children are getting a great education, then we can sell a bond issue," he said.

The sale of bonds is the most likely way for Wayne to raise the money needed for school construction.

But the public would have to approve the sale.

County commissioners also are joining other local officials across the state to urge the General Assembly to hold a statewide bond referendum to help local governments pay for school construction.

Consultants with Davenport and Co., a firm hired by the commissioners to advise them on money matters, told commissioners Friday they would need to be considering a tax hike to pay off the debt that would be incurred by selling bonds and building schools, along with the public works projects such as jail expansions and the renovation or rebuilding of other county offices.

Best said the commissioners and school board need to put their differences aside if the county's children are to benefit and the county's future secured.

"I want to work with them and accomplish this so we can both move forward and continue to make progress in the county and in the schools," he said.