05/08/07 — Wayne County School board adopts budget, facilities plan

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Wayne County School board adopts budget, facilities plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 8, 2007 2:00 PM

The school board officially adopted its 2007-08 budget and five-year facilities plan Monday night, expressing hopes that the public will support each.

Both topics were initially debated in a three-hour April 25 work session, with a preliminary report forwarded to the county manager for consideration. Budget figures are traditionally due to the commission by May 15.

The $18 million local budget also contained a $12.5 million expansion budget in response to commissioners' request to address such areas of concern as graduation rates, test scores, diversity and recruiting certified teachers.

The expansion budget sparked controversy again Monday night, when board member John P. Grantham said he could not support it.

"I know the logic behind it was partially because the county commission asked us to come up with a way to improve the school system, but I don't think there's a prayer that we'll get it," he said. "I don't think the taxpayers in Wayne County can stand that kind of expansion."

Grantham said there were a few things on the expansion budget he did favor -- teacher supplements, additional sign-on bonuses, and providing cameras at each school for security purposes.

While agreeing that the likelihood of the expansion budget being fully funded was slim, board member George Moye said they should comply with the request.

"Over the course of the years we have provided the county commissioners with all the information that they asked us for. I think we need to continue to do that," he said. "They're the funding agency. I think we have an obligation to put it in our budget. To do otherwise would not be doing what they have asked us to do."

As for the ongoing debate about the facilities plan, the board approved its latest submission, a revised version of the plan originally proposed nearly three years ago. Instead of coming in at the original price of $90 million, however, construction costs have it closer to $105 million.

Board member Pete Gurley, who chairs the building and grounds committee, made the motion "one more time" for the five-year facilities plan. Grantham asked that Sprunt Hill, special assistant to the superintendent for auxiliary services, explain how the figures for the plan were attained.

"We looked back at our plan that was adopted three years ago," Hill said, noting that no changes had been made despite inflation.

"It's a moving target because of the cost of steel and the cost of cement."

The cost of land and building new schools was also factored in, Hill said, prompting officials to increase the proposed plan by 10 percent.

"We have gone up in a period of the last two years from $90 million to $105 million, not by adding anything to the program, just from the cost of things going up," Grantham said.

Hill said the county commission had requested operational costs be included, but recurring items such as utilities should also be considered.

Several board members expressed frustration that they still have nothing to show for years of hammering out an acceptable facilities plan.

"I would like to encourage all the citizens and the commissioners to act on this," said board member Dave Thomas. "We need to get off it off the blackboard and get it on the field."

"The taxpayers of Wayne County need to have something done," Grantham said. "We need to decide what we're going to do and go ahead and do it."

Ms. Sims called it "unfortunate that these decisions are made and the processes have been held back because of how individuals feel, evidently, about each other rather than the boys and girls. It doesn't hurt anybody on this board personally, but it certainly does put damages on what it does for the boys and girls."

Gurley said he hesitated to appear redundant, "but I don't think we can say it enough. Prolonging this process has cost us $15 million over the last four or five years, $15 million that we could have enjoyed facilities done this period of time."

Ms. Sims said she would like to see parents take a more active role on behalf of their children.

"It just throws you back. We work so hard to comply (with the commission's requests). There's always something that we need to re-do," she said. "Let the parents come to the forefront and say 'Time is up.'

"It's really in the parents' hands now. It's out of our hands."