02/06/07 — School board backs state bond plan

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School board backs state bond plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 6, 2007 1:52 PM

Wayne County Board of Education voted Monday night to back the $2 billion proposed statewide school bond referendum, which it hopes the General Assembly will put to a public vote.

School boards across the state are lending support to the K-12 Public School Facility Bond Referendum for North Carolina, earmarked for capital improvements and construction needs. The last statewide school bond referendum, passed in 1996, was for $1.8 million.

"We have many needs across the state as far as facilities," Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said as he introduced the resolution at the board meeting. "There's a call now for a statewide bond which would give additional school money to school districts."

Taylor noted that the state has a formula it would use to determine distribution of the funds once the bond is passed.

The state currently faces more than $9.9 billion in school construction needs over the next five years, while Wayne County Public Schools needs are estimated at more than $90 million, officials said.

The local resolution states that "inadequate facility funding and explosive student growth prohibit North Carolina Public Schools from providing adequate classroom space, resulting in the use of mobile units and deteriorating facilities that pose health and safety hazards for students and personnel, leaking roofs, antiquated ventilation, cramped classrooms, without sufficient funding for replacement and repairs."

Wayne County currently uses 104 mobile units, the resolution said, and construction costs have increased by 47 percent since 2000.

Ongoing efforts to pass a local facilities plan have stalled. School officials said they have submitted several plans to the county commission in recent years, all of which have been rejected.

Of late, a Facilities Master Plan Team was formed, comprised of representatives from the school board and commission. A series of community meetings were held and the team delegated further study of the school system to three subcommittees.

Findings are still being discussed, but it has been a slow process and the debate about a local bond issue is still unresolved.

John P. Grantham was the only school board member who made comments about the proposal during Monday night's meeting.

"I think it's a good thing if the state would do a bond issue for $2 billion but the way the law is set up, it's the county's responsibility to pay for facilities. We're supposed to provide the buildings," he said.

Ideally, he said, local funding would be made available and anything additional from the state would be a bonus.

Grantham also took issue with a recurring problem between the two boards. Referencing recent remarks made by commissioners about the quality of education in the school system, he agreed that all the problems could not be resolved by constructing new buildings.

"But we do need facilities," he said. "They have been with us on the tours ... made comments of the kind of shape they're in.

"It's like we're starting all over again when we're battling in the newspaper."

The school board is responsible for curriculum, Grantham said.

"We don't really need another entity telling us how to run the schools," he said.

There are problems, but they are being addressed, Grantham said. He said one challenge is offering enough courses that students need so they will not have to take remedial classes when they reach college.

"The courts are interested in people getting a good education where they are. That's the mandate," he said. "We still have to let our main goal be to get people a good education wherever they go to school."