03/01/09 — County, school officials meet

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County, school officials meet

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 1, 2009 2:00 AM

The Wayne County commissioners and the Wayne County Board of Education will meet Tuesday in a joint session to discuss the future of a $23 million school facilities plan that has been the center of recent debate between both boards.

The joint meeting will get under way at noon at the Goldsboro Country Club.

Before the joint meeting, the commissioners will have an 8 a.m. briefing followed by the board's meeting at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the courthouse annex.

Commissioners will meet again on Thursday during a daylong planning session starting at 8 a.m. at the country club.

Wanda Sykes of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service will be the facilitator for that meeting. Commissioners are expected to hammer out a mission statement and set priorities.

The meeting is a follow-up to two half-day planning sessions held Feb. 19 and 20.

Commissioner Jack Best first broached the school facilities issue at the board's Feb. 17 session, then again Feb. 20 during the final day of the two-day retreat.

Tuesday's joint session is an outgrowth of the retreat discussions.

The plan had appeared finalized and ready to get under way when Best, at the Feb. 17, began to paint it as nothing more than a Band-Aid approach to patching worn-out buildings.

Best even floated the idea of a possible bond vote -- something he previously had opposed.

During the retreat, Best suggested that the county put the project on hold to talk with the school board and look at overall school needs.

However, County Manager Lee Smith said "that boat has sailed" and reminded him that the initial projects would be going out to bid within 45 days.

Best said the county needs to build five new schools, while tearing down 10 old ones.

The new schools, he said, need to be built where the populations warrant them.

Best, who along with the most of the current board agreed to the plan, said the concerns had been on his mind for some time. Commissioners Sandra McCullen and Steve Keen, who have been on the board for only four months, were not on the board when the plan was approved.

Best said someone needed to offer a second plan and that he intended to do so.

During the retreat, Mrs. McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the county schools, reminded Best that commissioners had signed off on the plan.

She added that school board members have done what has been asked of them by the commissioners.

Best agreed, but insisted the plan is inadequate and does not address the real facility needs.

In other business on Tuesday:

-- Developer John T. Bell, not the commissioner, will make a presentation on his proposed Rosewood Towne low-rent housing project. The project has generated organized opposition from people in the Rosewood community.

Bell has asked the county for a letter of support to the N.C. Division of Community Assistance to help clear the way for a Community Development Block Grant.

The county is under no obligation to approve the request and no liability for the project if it does.

The original project of more than 40 units and a $250,000 grant application has been scaled back to 36 units and a $216,000.

The grant monies would go to the county that in turn would make a 20-year loan at 2 percent interest to Bell.

Commissioners first heard the request last month sending it to the Planning Board for review.

Bell had the item pulled from the Planning Board agenda because of the growing opposition to the plan. The Planning Board has yet to review the project.

-- Commissioners will be asked to support a resolution for continuation of funding of the Wayne County Criminal Justice Partnership.

The state has funded the program since 1994 for community-based intervention services for high-risk offenders. Loss of the program would result in the loss of $121,215 in funding.

-- Ken Jones, Eastpointe director, will brief the board on how county funds have been budgeted for the current fiscal years, how many clients access the system, the 2008 audit and the progress the agency has made on reforms.

-- County Planner Connie Price will update commissioners on the county's comprehensive land use plan during the session at the country club.