02/14/08 — District answers security question

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District answers security question

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 14, 2008 2:13 PM

Wayne County Public Schools officials say they have started security upgrades at county schools, but they do not have the funds they need to finish the task.

And, they added, repairing several schools' tennis courts is a project they can complete with money that is already on hand.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor and special assistant to the superintendent for auxiliary services Sprunt Hill addressed the concern after Wayne County commissioners questioned the district's decision to go ahead with a plan to upgrade tennis courts at six high schools instead of putting the money into security enhancements.

Commissioners said the priority should have been to begin addressing the security issues rather than improving athletic facilities if funding was a concern.

School officials had previously said that there was simply not enough money to deal with security issues, which included locks that needed to be replaced at several county schools.

Hill said the cost for the tennis courts project is a "drop in the bucket" when held up against what it will take for the district to install locks and other security devices. Schools' safety staff estimated it could cost between $30 and $300 per door for the necessary locks. Multiplied by 33 schools, there was no way the district could afford the entire project right now.

"We had the money to do (the tennis courts), but we didn't have it to do all the security," Hill explained.

Taylor said the county knew about the funding concern.

"We made that clear in our request last year," he said.

Taylor said that funding for security was among the items included in the $12.5 million expansion budget the district had submitted to the commission. That budget was not approved.

He said the commissioners misinterpreted the decision to go ahead with the tennis court project, which he added is also related to keeping children safe.

"I could probably look at their budget or anybody's budget and question why something was spent," he added. "For us, it was a safety issue with these tennis courts. We don't want a child to get hurt."

The latest controversy is even more disconcerting, Hill said, because the school system is not waiting to do improvements at the schools but is moving forward on several projects.

"This is just the first phase," he said. "We didn't even ask for what we really needed. We have been doing things on our own, through our own money. We had to put cameras at a couple schools. But what we're talking about is access control. We used some of our Safe Schools money (to begin that)."

The commissioners did not get a request for that money, so they might not have known that there were security measures being addressed through school funds that are already in the district coffers, Taylor said.

"(They) don't know about that because we didn't have to go through them for that money. I don't want them to think we were pushing tennis courts over security," he said.

Hill said the school system has always worked to make the best use of its funding. He also noted that the problems with tennis courts have worsened over the past four years.

"We have been working on a way to get them fixed," he said, explaining that at Southern Wayne High the courts have not been up to regulation, with students having to travel eight miles to Mount Olive to practice and compete.

At Eastern Wayne High, meanwhile, he said there are "four little courts" and water drainage and space there are an issue.

When the debate began, it was all about being fair.

"To be equitable, which our board tries to be, why would you give six (courts) to some schools and four to others?" he said.

Comparing the cost of the two projects is unwarranted, he said.

"I don't want to get in a contest, but I have been told over and over, don't pour good money after bad," he said.