08/07/07 — School board OKs final list of priorities for county

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School board OKs final list of priorities for county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 7, 2007 1:46 PM

While the school board passed its $105 million school priorities list Monday night, board members said they remain frustrated with the lagging process.

Even if the construction and renovation projects were all funded today, the children in Wayne County will still go another year without being housed in facilities that are up to par, board chairwoman Shirley Sims said.

That's because, several noted, the purse strings are still tightly held by the county commission, which will now study the plan.

"I have been greatly disappointed in how this has gone for us. Not just the board but the boys and girls in Wayne County schools," Ms. Sims said.

"We're just not able to move at all because we cannot move without money. It takes a long time to get all the things that we need."

Sprunt Hill, special assistant to the superintendent for auxiliary services, estimated it could take "probably a good nine, 10 months before we could get everything, get any bids, any of that to go in. The earlier we can get the money, the earlier I could move on that time line."

Ms. Sims said the wait is frustrating.

"The same people that pull the lever at the voting place for the commissioners pull for us, (but) it doesn't seem like we have equal importance," she said. "I kind of feel like now we're being held hostage. We have got everything ready to go but we can't move."

It's a "sad time," she added, referring to the board's five-year struggle to launch a plan that still has not come to fruition.

"It appears to me that there's very little that the board can do at this point. We're going to have to lean and depend on the parents of these children and ask them to come forward and tell us what they feel is right for their boys and girls," she said.

Board member George Moye said it's not a matter of equal importance.

"There's nothing as important in Wayne County as the education of our children," he said. While he noted he supports such efforts as solid waste disposal and a facility for animal control, he said "everything else pales compared to the education of our children."

Board member Dave Thomas agreed that it's time to move forward with the plan.

"We started these hearings at the high schools last Aug. 28. That's about a year ago," he said. "It's time to get on this and get it going. You commissioners get moving and get it going."

Board member John P. Grantham said the effort extends way beyond the past year.

"We have been going on this for years -- five years," he said. "Over that time, we have seen our buying power go down, the costs going up over 100 percent.

"The last new school we built was about $78 a square foot. Now people are bragging that schools come in at $135-140 a square foot. We need to get it going before it goes up any more."

Thomas suggested that instead of dividing up the plan equally, it be given a jump start to offset the rising costs.

"In the five-year plan, over five years the average would be $21 million per year. My recommendation would be $35 million for the first three years so you could have the whole thing done in five years," he said.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor commended the board for reaching this point and completing the priorities list, which had been requested by the commission. He explained that whatever the next step, there will likely be more negotiation.

"It would be nice if we could get all the money, but we also have to factor in operational costs," he said. "The numbers will continue to go up the longer it takes to get this moving."

Taylor added that even though the list was ranked in order, some changes might occur.

"The Board of Education understands that, depending on how funding comes in at one time, we might have to adjust the priority list to reflect that," he said.

Mrs. Sims said she just hopes "we'll have some good news and will be able to respond to the needs of our boys and girls."