02/19/09 — Jack Best: It's time to rethink facilities

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Jack Best: It's time to rethink facilities

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 19, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County's $23 million school facilities plan is nothing more than a Band-Aid approach to addressing school needs, Commissioner Jack Best said Tuesday.

The county, he said, needs to tear down 10 old schools and replace them with five new ones in areas where the population warrants them. The old schools are inefficient and in some cases are in areas where the population shifts have left fewer students.

Best stopped short of calling for a bond referendum on school needs outright, but did hint that such a vote might not be out of the question.

In a later interview, Best refused to be pinned down on specifics about a bond vote, but he did say that the county needs a second facilities plan -- a plan that includes how it would be paid for.

Best said someone needs to come up with that plan and that he is undertaking the task himself

"I am going to start," he said. "It should take four to six weeks."

Commissioners were wrapping discussion on the county's Day Reporting Center during their Tuesday session when Best launched into about a 15-minute discourse on schools.

Best, who along with the remainder of the board that supported the current plan, said his comments were prompted by lingering concerns.

"I have been worried about it all along," he said in the interview.

Best prefaced his remarks at the meeting with an oft-repeated refrain about the need to look into the graduation and dropout rates.

"The first thing they need to do in Raleigh is to figure out what the dropout and graduation rates are across the state," Best said. "The way I figure it is how many go into high school and how many come out."

Best, who at times has been a critic of the school board, praised the board for innovations like the School of Engineering at Goldsboro High School.

"There is a lot of work to do toward better educating our students and I am encouraged by that (innovations)," he said. "I am still worried about putting a Band-Aid on brick and mortar and the $23 million we are getting ready to spend is a Band-Aid.

"If you put a Band-Aid on it today, three years from now, or 10 years from now, you still don't have a new school, it is just an old school patched up."

Best said the county needs 25 schools not the 32 that it has.

"The population has shifted from 60 years ago when some (schools) were built," he said. "I believe Wayne County will step up to the plate if you give them a workable plan and build new schools and tear down the old."

"Are you referring to a bond referendum," Commissioner Sandra McCullen asked.

Best said he had not favored bonds in the past, but that, "I am changing my mind. But you have got to sell the bond issue. You have got to sell it and to do so you have got to have the education programs to go along with the brick and mortar.

"The real problem is that we are putting on a $23 million Band-Aid and what do we have, old schools except for Greenwood and it was built in the 1960s. I am worried about throwing good money after bad. I don't know what to do but to ask the public.

"It is tough economic times and I know that throwing $23 million at old schools is not a good plan but it is the only one that we have."

Reducing the number of schools would result in a "tremendous savings," he said

Commissioner Steve Keen agreed with Best in commending the board of education on its efforts including moving the fifth grade from Carver Elementary School to Mount Olive Middle School in Mount Olive.

Mrs. McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the county schools, said the school board's actions were in response to commissioners' desires to find ways to reduce costs.

Five to six new schools would cost the county between $100 million to $120 million, Best said.

"Tearing down 10 old schools the savings would be unbelievable not only that we could build the schools where we need them," he said.

Mrs. McCullen said other counties have been able to build schools.

"Just look at Sampson County," Mrs. McCullen said. "Maybe we need to look at what they are doing. If you want to know what the citizens want, put it before them."

Students, he said, have to be taught early how to read.

"What we have in this county is that 50 percent of the students are not fully and properly educated when they are 18 and that is not acceptable."

Mrs. McCullen countered that results of the Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success (WORKS) program indicates the opposite and that a "high percentage" are ready.

The WORKS and Career Readiness Certificates (CRC) program measures real-world skills and tests in three areas: Reading for information, locating information and applied mathematics.

Best responded that "is still a high percentage" of the students who go on to Wayne Community College who require remediation in math and English before they move on to college-level courses.

Best said just because someone can do English, like he couldn't, or math, like he can, that it doesn't mean they couldn't frame a house, work on computers or build engines.