01/17/10 — Taylor: District moving forward

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Taylor: District moving forward

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 17, 2010 1:50 AM

Wayne County Public Schools officials are still not going into detail about the circumstances surrounding an investigation into the dealings of the district's facilities and maintenance departments, but school officials say building projects and day-to-day operations are continuing.

The district came under scrutiny at the end of 2009, when State Bureau of Investigation officers began an inquiry into the departments.

Shortly before the Christmas holidays, school officials announced that Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services, had been placed on administrative leave, effective Dec. 18. They later confirmed that Danny Langley, maintenance director, had been placed on administrative leave Oct. 7.

The SBI has released no information on the status of the investigation.

Likewise, school officials have remained mum on the particulars, calling each of the incidents a "personnel matter," except to say that in the interim, Hill's duties were being divided among staff members.

In his role, Hill, whose career in education has spanned nearly 30 years, oversaw the day-to-day school operations, including custodial work, maintenance, technology support and transportation. He was also instrumental in creating the district's facilities and construction plans.

The most recent renovation projects have included Brogden Primary, Greenwood Middle and Mount Olive Middle schools, while projects at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools are pending.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said he will continue to "reserve public comment until we can get some resolution" to the investigation, but maintained that the district's aim is to continue with "business as usual" as much as possible.

One of the initial changes included several duty reassignments to offset the recent staff changes.

School Board chairman Rick Pridgen said that in Langley's absence, David Gardner, assistant maintenance director, has stepped into the role as acting director. As for other departments affected by the change of command, duties have been divided among the assistant superintendents.

"Dr. Taylor is working very closely with David to handle the day-to-day maintenance operations," Pridgen said. "It's pretty much been running smoothly."

Taylor further explained how the chain of command will work in regard to responsibilities that came under Hill's jurisdiction.

"The way I have reassigned duties right now -- maintenance is reporting to me," he said. "I have assigned operations to (Nan) Barwick (assistant superintendent for finance), transportation to Marvin McCoy (assistant superintendent for human resource services), technology to Olivia Pierce (executive director of community relations, media and technology) and then the athletic directors to Dr. (Sandra) McCullen (associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction)," he said. "What I have done is taken the leadership team and assigned them the duties until we can get through the issue.

"The bottom line is, we work together as a team. There should not be anything that should stop that progress as far as I'm concerned. Certainly this is a bump in the road but it should not stop any of our progress."

As far as the facilities and construction plans, Taylor pointed out that many of the projects have been on the books for years. So the recent personnel issues should not stall the ongoing efforts by the district.

"We will deal with this issue at hand, but that should not in any way slow or stop progress," he said. "We have made a lot of progress with our renovations this year. I would just really like to see Eastern Wayne and Norwayne to move forward very soon."

The two projects are "badly needed," Taylor said, and the district can't afford to lose ground because of delays. The superintendent said he intends to do everything he can to expedite the process.

"When issues happen unexpectedly such as this has, we're still having school every day," he said. "We'll deal with those issues we have to, but at the same time, we don't need to sit back and use that as an excuse not to move forward."

"We're still proceeding forward with all those plans," Pridgen added. "They're already in place; it's just a matter of funding."

Taylor said he has regular conversations with County Manager Lee Smith, especially of late, as the district is engaged in the budget process. The school system will also continue to build on its working relationship with the county commission, particularly in relation to the funding options for current and future projects.

"At this point, we're trying to look for whatever funding sources we can use to move forward," he said. "The economy slowed down everything for everybody. Now that things are picking up, I'm hoping we can find some way to move forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2.

"It's going to take some time, some effort, some creativity to do that. I feel confident the county manager and commissioners will work with us to do that."

Despite the recession, and precariousness of next year's budget, Pridgen said he remains optimistic about what the district can accomplish.

"We're just being as cooperative as we can be with the investigation, but we have got a day-to-day job -- that's to educate children in this county -- that's what we're doing," he said. "We certainly don't like that this is going on but at the same time, we have to move forward. We can't let this drag us down. We have to do what we have to do and that's to educate our children."