01/12/10 — Duplin takes look at five potential school locations

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Duplin takes look at five potential school locations

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 12, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Consultant Jeff Tsai with the North Carolina State University Operations Research Education Laboratory presented five potential sites for a new school to the Duplin County Board of Education Monday night.

Four of the five plans specifically took into account the possible merging of North Duplin and James Kenan high schools, while the fifth plan called for building a new James Kenan High.

All five proposals were calculated using a mathematical program. They showed general areas for a new school, rather than a specific site.

The mathematical program focused on finding sites that would minimize the distance, on a system-wide basis, that students would have to travel to the school. The program used data input based on student locations, existing school capacities and new school capacity, Tsai said.

Tsai said he worked from the premise "We need to build a new school, what is the most optimal location to build a new school?"

The optimal target areas for placement of a new high school show "mathematical stability, regardless which schools are included/excluded," he said.

Tsai said his research is "upside-down" compared to the way his office usually works.

"The project that I would work with school districts for targeting a new school is usually based on where the school population growth and where it will be a location for the school," he said. "And after they decide where the school location is, they purchase property, and they start building. Maybe a year before the school opens, they come back to us -- 'What will the attendance boundary be?'" Tsai said.

Tsai, who is performing a study of student population and growth in Duplin, said both B.F. Grady Elementary and East Duplin High School are overcrowded and that several other schools are close to capacity.

Some school board members questioned the direction of Tsai's research.

"My initial understanding was that we were going to be taking population density and looking at where to put four high schools in the county logically if we were going to look at the best places to see where they might go," board member Jennings Outlaw said.

"Duplin County is one strange project, I can say that. The first time I met with you, I asked for the school board to come up with the scope of the project, exactly what you want," Tsai responded.

However, the starting point for his research has changed, he said.

"All I can do is react to changes, reacting to decisions already made, because I never had a real, real clear scope of work," Tsai said.

But the information presented Monday was not what Outlaw expected when the board voted on Tsai's study, he said.

"I'm missing something, I understand what you're doing, but it looks very different to me than what I thought you were doing," Outlaw said.

Tsai told board members he was confused about where his project now stands.

"I'm a little confused exactly where the school board wants me to go back to, or am I starting from a new starting point, or is there disagreement amongst school board members where the starting points are for me to proceed?" he said.

"I think the situation is that there were two starting points," board member Willie Gillespie said.

"The starting point seems to be changing, and the only thing I can give you is, understand what the starting point is and move on, otherwise I'm standing here," Tsai responded.

There is disagreement among board members about the potential consolidated high school, and "You're caught in the middle of it," board member Chuck Farrior said.

"How do we bridge that gap? I don't know," he said.

The board did not take action on the information presented.