12/19/07 — Commission says this is only start of funding plans

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Commission says this is only start of funding plans

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 19, 2007 1:46 PM

As they waited on the Wayne County Board of Education to adopt the $23 million school facilities proposal presented last week, county commissioners began looking forward Tuesday morning to the second phase of the long-term construction effort.

"Phase two is going to take some time and effort, but we when we come up with it, it will be more than just facilities," Commissioner John Bell said. "It will be the whole gamut to make the system better."

But first, the two sides have to follow through on phase one, which was presented to the public on Friday by County Manager Lee Smith and approved by the school board Tuesday by a 6-1 vote.

"Once the (school) board votes in favor today to move forward, we (county and school officials) will meet immediately to begin work on a timeline," Smith said Tuesday morning. "I want to concentrate on phase one. We've got to stay on this thing."

The goal is to be able to begin construction within four to six months. The whole $23 million schedule is expected to last two to three years.

It will include major renovations at Norwayne Middle, Eastern Wayne Middle, Greenwood Middle, Mount Olive Middle and Brodgen Primary, and minor improvements at Mount Olive Middle, Carver Heights Elementary, School Street, Dillard Middle, Goldsboro High and Charles B. Aycock High.

Most of the projects, Smith explained, will involve classroom expansions and improvements. None are expected to increase operating costs, and, he said, several should actually result in cost savings through increased efficiency.

Funding for the plan is being shared by the county and the school system, using sales tax and lottery funds, cash reserves and performance contracts. Commission Chairman Bud Gray has pledged that there will be no property tax increase to help pay for this initial list of projects.

"This gives us a good start," Commissioner Jack Best said. "What's good about it is that these are projects the school board submitted to us as their priorities. It's a list of absolute needs. We are using their information to get the ball rolling."

Now, he continued, the goal is to keep it rolling.

"There is going to have to be a big discussion between the school board and the county commissioners as to what we should do next, but it's going to include quite a bit," he said.

Among the issues the commissioners hope to address in the second phase are school facilities, as well as the quality of education, specifically graduation rates, dropout rates and job skill development.

"We have not fully evaluated what all phase two will have, but we will be looking at those programs," Commissioner J.D. Evans said.

Commissioner Efton Sager cautioned, though, that any future plans must be "fiscally responsible" and take into account "what the taxpayers can afford."

Still, all the commissioners agreed that this first phase of projects represents a large step forward.

They credited the county business leaders who have helped bring members of the two boards together in recent weeks for closed-door discussions, as being instrumental in the process.

"I have been working on this a long time and it's good that it's finally moving," Commissioner Atlas Price said. "I think this was really the result of the business community getting involved and maybe making both sides realize that not everybody was right, but not everybody was wrong.

"By doing that, they opened the lines of communication."

And, he added, if that level of communication can continue, then the next pieces of the puzzle should fall into place much more smoothly and quickly.

"It shouldn't be so difficult, but it depends on how difficult everyone wants to make it," Price said. "It's a matter of being open and working together."