01/17/08 — Duplin schools to make new plan

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Duplin schools to make new plan

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 17, 2008 1:47 PM

KENANSVILLE -- No formal votes were taken, but the Duplin County Board of Education seemed to agree Tuesday night on the need to at least re-evaluate its facility plans.

The board's current plan, which was originally adopted in 2005 and then re-authorized in early 2007 by a 4-1 vote, was rejected by the county Board of Commissioners, 4-2, in November.

The problem, the majority of the commissioners explained, is that the current plan does not seem to have the support of the whole county.

"The reason I was opposed to the facility plan was because of the vast majority of the people who came to see me and the phone calls I got," Commissioner David Fussell said of his vote. "The public did not like it."

It includes several proposals: the building of a new high school to consolidate the students at James Kenan High School and students at East Duplin from the B.F. Grady area; the replacement of E.E. Smith and Warsaw middle schools with a consolidated middle school at the former James Kenan High School; the construction of a new elementary school in the B.F. Grady area; and the renovation of Charity Middle School.

Much of the plan's controversy, though, comes from only one piece -- the consolidation of B.F. Grady with James Kenan High School.

It's why school board member Jennings Outlaw, new to the board in 2006, has spoken out and voted against the current proposal.

"It doesn't make sense to build a central high school," Outlaw said. "There's a lot of options that make more sense (fiscally) than the one originally presented."

So, he placed four alternatives on the table -- each dealing differently with the need to replace Warsaw and E.E. Smith Middle School and upgrade James Kenan High School, but none involving a new consolidated high school.

His other concern, is that by including B.F. Grady students in the consolidation, they would be pulling them out of East Duplin High School -- one of the county's best performing schools -- and putting them into James Kenan, which is one of the county's worst performing schools.

"If you look at James Kenan, per student, discipline problems are about five times as high (as East Duplin)," Outlaw said. "If you look at comparing test scores, it's about 70 percent to 35 percent.

"That's two things that are very important in schools. You're going to have a lot of parents pulling students out of the new high school and you'll be losing community support. We need to have a good reason for this controversy."

Other board members, however, did not believe consolidation would create such a problem, saying that districts should no longer view themselves as isolated units.

"Everybody likes staying in their little pods, and we can't do that anymore," board member Reginald Kenan said.

"I think it's time this end of the county gets something it can be proud of," board Chairwoman Emily Manning added. "I'd like to see a school built that every student in the county wants to go to. I don't understand how it can be a negative thing."

The primary goal, the other members agreed, is to improve the facilities in the James Kenan district, while also helping to alleviate overcrowding at East Duplin.

School board member Hubert Bowden also suggested that perhaps North Duplin Jr./Sr. High School should be included in any adjusted school facility plan -- an issue that Commissioner Zettie Williams raised earlier this month when explaining her vote against the current plan.

"I just think North Duplin needs to be included," Bowden said. "I think that would be a good plan. North Duplin has escaped long enough."

And so that was how things were left at the end of the meeting -- that school Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby would work with architect Robbie Ferris to come up with the latest enrollment and population trend numbers, as well as cost estimates, for some of the alternatives discussed, and that a decision would be made soon.

"It's past time to get this settled," Ms. Manning said.