02/20/07 — Best: Programs, not just buildings

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Best: Programs, not just buildings

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 20, 2007 1:51 PM

A Facilities Master Plan Team meeting Monday to hear recommendations for the school system erupted into a debate about graduation rates when one county commissioner raised concerns over education in the county schools.

The brief meeting, convened to review findings from the educational and facilities/real estate focus committees, was wrapping up when Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor invited discussion about the next steps.

Jack Best, county commission representative on the master plan team, asked, "How about the real problems that we have at the schools?" He cited as an example the high school graduation rates.

"This meeting is not to discuss graduation rates," Taylor replied.

"What do you mean? You don't want to listen to anything other than the $90 million plan?" Best asked.

He said that local graduation rates released recently were actually lower than he had been led to believe from his own research, accusing the school system of "hiding numbers."

"We are not hiding the numbers, Mr. Best," Taylor said.

Taylor asked where Best had obtained his information, then attempted to explain that the statewide statistics were expected to be released at the end of the month.

School board member John P. Grantham said the officials did not want to hear allegations "about us hiding things. We're here, like Dr. Taylor said, to worry about facilities."

Best said the school board's job should be to compile an all-inclusive list that included priorities in the areas of programs as well as facilities.

"We're already on that," Taylor said. He explained that in addition to the upcoming budget that is being prepared, school officials are creating a funding plan to support both programs and personnel. It is expected to be submitted to the county commission upon completion and review by the Board of Education, he said.

Noting that any funding obtained would essentially be "the people's money," Best said the commission has a fiduciary responsibility to look after it.

Grantham suggested the matter be put up to public vote.

"You're going to get more participation for a bond than any other discussion we're having, as far as what the people want," he said.

Best did not debate the need for some of the proposed facilities.

"The question is, are brick and mortar going to help the real problem -- a lot of students not getting the education that they need to have to go into the 21st century?" he said.

But to consider spending $90 million on the county schools and not offer the best possible education, he said, "is just ridiculous."

"The money will further enhance that," Taylor said. "We'll be sending over a list of programs and personnel, and you can partner with us better by funding than by criticizing."

Grantham said with rising construction costs, the school system has already forfeited more than $40 million by waiting five years for needed funding.

"Right now, we can't fix all the academic problems and the dropout rate ... but we can fix the facilities and that will help," he said.

"All I'm saying is I really believe that the whole thing ought to be part of the whole plan," Best replied. "I think we ought to go forward with a larger plan."

Regarding the eight recommendations received from the two committees, Taylor said it would not change the current proposed $90 million facilities plan in a major way, but would need to be studied further.

"What we do now is send these back to the advisory committees and then once that feedback is received, go back before the Board of Education for them to put the finishing touches on it," he said. It will then be submitted to the master team's financial committee for them to work out funding options.

Taylor said he was frustrated by the turn of events at the meeting. It didn't help, he said, that in his seven years as superintendent, "we haven't gotten funded yet."

"I have heard too many times that there was unwillingness to provide funding" for areas such as programs and personnel, he said. "We're working on looking at those areas specifically and we're going to ask for funding to support both programs and personnel ... to further improve and enhance what we're doing at Wayne County Public Schools."

Taylor said the school system does regular assessments to determine what improvements need to be made in the educational process. Facilities, he noted, are just one component.

"As I said to Mr. Best, certainly the environment our kids attend school in every day, I think, supports student performance and student achievement," he said.

"You're never satisfied to be where you are but it also takes funding to help us move beyond that. If the county commissioners are willing to help provide that funding, we'll utilize that to the fullest extent. It will take initial funding and continued funding."