09/17/08 — Best says outhouse comment taken out of context

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Best says outhouse comment taken out of context

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 17, 2008 1:41 PM

Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best who earlier this month riled Board of Education members by his use of the phrase "planting flowers around the outhouse," Tuesday morning said the comment was "highly misunderstood" by the school board.

"As for the members of the school board who question my integrity, all I can say is that I took the job not for power or money, but for a genuine love of Wayne County," Best said. "I urge the Wayne County Board of Education to stop wasting precious time with hurt feelings and bruised egos -- we have got a job to do and it is one that cannot wait."

Meanwhile, his fellow commissioners, John Bell and Atlas Price, took umbrage at comments by Board of Education member John Grantham that the county is not doing anything in terms of local funding of the $22 million for school facilities.

Price added he had received "nothing but positive" response concerning his comments about the need for school redistricting. He renewed his contention that redistricting is needed.

He said it would show where some facilities could be closed, while showing where others might need to be built.

Best said that when he spoke of "planting flowers around the outhouse" he was referring to "the recent flood of boastful press releases that have appeared in the Goldsboro News-Argus."

"These press releases highlighted many of the school system's recent successes, but failed to mention some of the biggest problems now facing our community," he said.

Best said it had not been his intention "to hurt anyone or put down the efforts made by the Wayne County Board of Education and its staff." Best said he has nothing but respect for them.

"However, I believe that as a representative of our community it is my job to hold the board to the highest standards possible," Best said.

He said he was asking the school board to be "better than average."

Best said he wanted the school system to be the best in the state and to achieve this, the good and the bad must be the focus of discussions -- and actions.

"We cannot simply focus on our successes, we must also work to solve problems," Best said. "These problems cannot be solved by planting flowers or making cosmetic improvements."

He said the county must work together on the dropout rate. Best said no one wants any child to fall through the cracks. Many children lack healthy educational support at home, he added.

Best reiterated comments he made at the board's September meeting that the schools are "our last line of defense.

"We must reach them (children) before they become part of the (dropout) percentage we are arguing over today," he said.

In an unrelated exchange, Bell said Grantham had made a comment that the $22 million for school construction projects was coming from the lottery and other sources and little was being provided by the county.

County Manager Lee Smith said Grantham was "technically correct."

Smith said that $4 million to $5 million of the $22 million is coming from cash from the county and the schools.

"Our commitment was that we would use debt service from sales tax and the lottery," Smith said. "That is what it (lottery) was put in place for and that is what we will help pay debt service with. It (money) would not come not from any property tax. I think it is the only way right now that we can do it. We tried looking at having little to no impact on local property tax."

"I think what John (Bell) picked up on was an indication, a slant that the county is not doing anything," Price said.

The school board indicated that it was already money that they would get anyway, Bell said.

"Technically, he (Grantham) is right, but that (lottery) money is not being used (now)," Smith said. "It's sitting there, and it's money that if you can leverage with money at the rates we have got right now, it is smart use it to get $16 million-$18 million and that is what we are doing.

"I think it is smart using state monies first. I am telling you if the schools do not use the state funds fast, they are going to lose them. Mark my words, in the next 48 months, they are going to lose their state lottery funds. It is going to go away, so if you do not tap into it, and show that you need it ... "

Bell said the N.C. Association of County Commissioners "made that comment also."

"I say use it (state money) first with the economy the way it is," Smith said. "I think we are doing the smart thing for local taxpayers. It makes sense. It is a revenue stream that is available. Remember, by borrowing, the county is the one that is obligated, not the schools. Wayne County is obligated so when they (school board) say the county is not doing anything that it is not true. You are obligating the full faith and credit of Wayne County. We are the ones obligated to pay it back."

Smith said it just makes sense to use state money first and "then you use yours second. It is cheaper and easier verses having to raise property taxes. It is a smart move and they are getting their top seven to eight projects completed."