06/17/09 — Duplin citizens speak at meeting

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Duplin citizens speak at meeting

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 17, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Although school funding again dominated the conversation at the Duplin County Commissioners meeting, the tone of Monday night's meeting was much different than it was just two weeks ago.

The pendulum of concern swung back toward the Board of Education as the majority of a crowd of about 45 residents spoke their minds on the state of the county school system.

Many residents spoke on the need for both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education to change the way they are handling the situation. The school leaders have argued that the county does not provide enough money to give children a proper education. Last year, they sued the county for more money.

Commissioners, on the other hand, have been critical of the way the school board spends the money it has.

Both elected boards received criticism.

School board members and the commissioners have made bad decisions, said Dean Johnson, a Warsaw native who has eight grandchildren.

"I just would like to see both boards make some better decisions before we consider raising taxes again," Johnson said.

Ken Newbald of Rose Hill said Duplin is "not a rich county," and added that he believes that school administrators' salaries are too high and need to be examined more closely.

"The salaries of administrators are very out of line with the classroom teachers'," he said.

Some of the speakers, including Jack Zesh of Wallace, thanked the commissioners for their efforts at improving the schools despite the economy. Hiring consultant company Evergreen to find ways of improving school efficiency was a step in the right direction, but their recommendations won't work if they are not implemented, Zesh noted.

"One of the things you need to do now is to have the county manager put the plans in place," he said, adding that the bickering between the two boards must stop.

Ted Hudson Jr. said the real issue isn't just money, but the attitudes of the teachers themselves.

When he was growing up, Hudson said, "They did not expect more from the board, they expected more from us," he said.

The recent overwhelming opposition to a threat to eliminate school sports because of a lack of money revealed a deeper problem, Hudson argued.

"What are we teaching our children today? That education without athletics is worthless," he said.

Better use of resources, particularly during the current economic downturn, is vital to handling the situation, said Hank Fry.

"Everyone in this county, in this state, in this country is trying to more with less," he said. "It's time the Board of Education did the same."

The commissioners later voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget, which reduced the tax rate 69 cents per $100 value -- a more or less revenue neutral rate.

The Monday meeting showed evidence of a cooperative spirit, said commissioner Reginald Wells.

"(There were) no hidden agendas tonight," Wells said. "I think we're here tonight solely for the good of Duplin County."

Working with the Board of Education will be the next step, he said.