12/02/09 — Duplin school board hears more about facility capacity study

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Duplin school board hears more about facility capacity study

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 2, 2009 12:15 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education elected new leaders Tuesday night and announced that the North Carolina School Boards Association will assist in the search for a new superintendent.

James Kenan will serve as chairman and Chuck Farrior will serve as vice chairman of the board, members decided at the beginning of the meeting.

The board announced the search for a new superintendent and the assistance of the state School Boards Association after an hour-long closed session designated for discussing legal and personnel matters. Superintendent Dr. Wiley J. Doby decided last month not to pursue a contract renewal after his current term is up.

The board members also heard from Jeff Tsai of the North Carolina State University Operations Research/Education Laboratory, and will hold a special work session in January to discuss the options he presented to the board.

Many Duplin County schools are facing serious overcrowding, and redistricting is not the answer to the problem, Tsai said Tuesday.

B.F. Grady Elementary school is operating at 167 percent of capacity, with 872 students in a school built for 523. Also overly full are Kenansville Elementary, operating at 111 percent capacity of the facilities, Wallace Elementary operating at 106 percent capacity and East Duplin High School operating at 128 percent capacity. Other schools that are nearly full include Beaulaville Elementary at 98 percent and North Duplin Elementary at 94 percent capacity.

The facilities simply do not have the room to handle the student population as it stands, and redistricting would only shift those students from one overloaded school to another overloaded school, Tsai said.

The facility study committee led by sFL+a Architects of Raleigh, represented at the meeting by Robert Ferris, made six recommendations for the board's consideration: building a new pre-k through 3rd grade facility for B.F. Grady Elementary School to alleviate the crowding, reconfigure B.F. Grady Elementary School to grades 4-8, close E.E. Smith Middle School and Warsaw Middle School due to aging facilities, convert James Kenan High School a grades 6-8 middle school to absorb students from closed middle schools, build a new 9-12 high school for B.F. Grady, Warsaw and Kenansville and redistrict to balance building utilization after the previous recommendations have taken place.

However, defining a starting point for the Board of Education will be more difficult Tsai told the board.

"We can't define the scope or move forward without the board's priorities," he said.

The board members must decide their priorities, whether they are based in brick and mortar driven decisions, education driven decisions, economic driven decisions, demographic driven decisions or procedure driven decisions, Tsai said.

Once the board does that, "my job will be to find you those data-driven solutions," he said.

The board could focus on a district-wide initiative or only focus on a specific school, for example, or decide how and how much to balance school demographics throughout the county system.

But first, the system must redo its capacity study, Ferris said. The most recent was conducted five years ago, and five years is the limit for using data from the previous study, he said.

"It is now time to redo that, look at how classrooms are being used," Ferris said.

The board members decided to meet in a work session on Monday, Jan. 11 to discuss the options.

The board also voted to approve the consent agenda and took action on several other items, including adopting a mandated "no bullying" policy. The members also heard a presentation about Warsaw Middle School's recent Starbase participation.

Resident Jimmy Dixon spoke during the public comment period to protest the wording of an amendment to the minutes of the previous school board meeting, which said that Dixon spoke on school policy code.

"I object to the minutes. I attempted to speak," Dixon clarified.

But the school board lawyer stopped him from discussing individual personnel issues, he said.

"We can discuss this together or I will be more than happy to discuss it at the courthouse," Dixon said.