02/11/09 — Duplin schools consider dumping lawsuit

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Duplin schools consider dumping lawsuit

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 11, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin Board of Education will ask for the county's permission today to start site preparation for a new school at Duplin Commons on the southern outskirts of Kenansville.

Schools Superintendent Wiley Doby told the board members during a special meeting Tuesday night that the president's economic stimulus package has passed the Senate with much of the construction money for education taken out, but he expects the conference committee to put it back in.

Nobody knows how much will trickle down to Duplin County, but in case it ends up being a windfall, the board voted to get a building project "shovel ready" to give the school system a better chance of landing grant money

More than likely, Consultant Robbie Ferris of Shueller, Ferris, Lindstrom & Associates in Fayetteville told the school board, the grant won't be enough to build a high school.

But the board did not want to miss the opportunity.

Chuck Farrior of Wallace moved to authorize Ferris to do a site plan and soil tests on land between the two access roads to the Events Center at Duplin Commons and on another portion of land beside James Kenan High School contingent on approval by the Duplin County Board of Commissioners. If the county were to allow the site preparation work to be done, Ferris would then bring his findings back to the school board.

Although his motion included the words "without any consideration of what would be constructed there," School Board memer Reginald Kenan said it is evident knows the school at Duplin Commons would be a high school and the one beside the current James Kenan High School would be a new middle school.

If the school board receives at least $30 million, its members will decide later what kind of high school the new James Kenan would be. Kenan said he is not yet ready to let go of the current plan, which includes building a consolidated high school.

"It's not easy to scrap something after years and years of effort," he said.

But Farrior wanted to adopt a plan that everybody could buy into. And the idea of a consolidated school has not been popular with many .

School board member Jennings Outlaw of Mount Olive agreed.

"If you consolidate high schools you will run into a lot of opposition," he said.

On Monday night, the school board and commissioners met and school officials said they might reconsider the lawsuit against the county that the board won last fall. Commissioners are appealing the ruling that would give the schools $4.8 million more in county money.

Board of Education Chairman Emily Manning promised commissioners that the school board would reconsider the lawsuit and maybe come up with a compromise that the county could more easily handle than the $4.8 million, which would push the county's emergency fund below the state's required 8 percent of the overall budget.

Commissioner David Fussell said the county's emergency fund is already dangerously close to the state county commissioners association's recommended 15 percent minimum.

By the end of June, if the county spends what has been placed in the budget to draw from the emergency fund, it will dip to $9 million or 17.9 percent of the overall budget.

"I recommend we put this lawsuit behind us and move on to the next issue," he said.

The issue that rose to the top Monday night was how to come up with money to address badly needed improvement of existing school buildings like those at Charity and Warsaw middle schools.

"The best first step for the time being would be to find a way to improve on what we've got," said Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner.

The two boards will meet again Monday at 1 p.m. to hear a presentation by Florida-based Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm hired by commissioners to conduct a school performance audit.