02/17/10 — Kenan High principal: Consolidation is right

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Kenan High principal: Consolidation is right

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 17, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Consolidation is the right move for Duplin County students, James Kenan High School Principal Charlie Blanchard said Monday at the Duplin County Board of Commissioners' meeting.

At one time, Duplin County had a high school "at every county crossroads," until commissioners decided in the 1950s to consolidate into four high schools. That was a wise decision, Blanchard said.

"It has proven to be what was right for our young people," he said.

Blanchard was one of several people who spoke during the public comment period at the meeting in favor of consolidating Duplin County's four high schools into three. Under the school facilities plan, his school would be combined with North Duplin High School.

Blanchard noted the changes in education since the '50s and said Duplin must provide its children the education they will need to be successful in the 21st century. Small schools such as North Duplin struggle to answer those needs, Blanchard said.

"We cannot keep waiting to build. We must move now ... If we want Duplin County to grow, we must meet the educational needs of our students so they can compete in a global economy," he said.

Wallace resident Carla Casteen also spoke in support of building a new consolidated high school for the county's students, although she acknowledged the difficulties of paying for it.

"I know this has been an extremely tough year for making economic decisions," she said.

But the school would have a positive "ripple effect" throughout the county, and could provide the education modern students require, Ms. Casteen said.

"We have to give them the opportunity to be competitive in a world that is much different from the one you and I grew up in," she said. "... They need to know we believe in them, and that we care about their future."

Other residents spoke out against building a consolidated high school. Grant Davis of Calypso called attention to the commissioners' recent decision to strive for a balanced budget. The board is already giving the school system a considerable amount of money, and may still have to pay the schools more than $4 million in the lawsuit, he said.

"To bring a $35 million project on top of a $4.8 million lawsuit, that's bold, that's real bold," Davis said.

According to Davis, building the school would result in an 87 percent increase on the county's debt service.

The boards should come up with a more "economically wise" facilities plan, Davis said.

"Saying you can do it without a tax increase is to misrepresent the situation," he said.

Commissioner Reginald Wells was on the agenda to discuss financing the school facilities plan. Wells asked the commissioners to pass a resolution accepting the school facilities plan.

Commissioner Zettie Williams offered a motion that the board vote to accept the plan recommending to build a new central high school, with the understanding that the commissioners would not raise taxes to fund it. Wells seconded the motion.

"Is it required of us to accept the plan?" Turner asked.

County Manager Mike Aldridge said that he had not so far received a document that outlined exactly what the facilities plan proposes. County attorney Wendy Sivori examined the legal language regarding the board's responsibilities to the school system, and determined that under her interpretation, commissioners have the responsibility of deciding whether to fund the plan.

"I would take that as, you could take that as meaning you could vote to accept the plan or not accept the plan," she said.

Commissioner David Fussell said he was uncomfortable voting on the facilities plan when he did not understand the possible costs involved.

"A business would not approve a plan without knowing the cost," he said.

Ferris, who attended the meeting, stated that the estimated costs of the facilities plan he presented at the joint meeting on Feb. 1 were accurate.

"I'm very comfortable with those numbers. ... I would say you can take them to the bank," he said.

Turner said that the issue was moot. The chairman requested that the Board of Education submit its needs to the commissioners by resolution, "And they have not done so," he said.

Wells said he had examined the county budget and found several items that could be adjusted or used to fund building a new high school.

"All I've been hearing is, 'We can't do it.' I want to be an optimist today," he said.

Among the measures he suggested were reducing the number of county emergency management services stations from eight to six, dedicating half of the county's lottery money to the project, setting aside money after the county completes payments on the courthouse and using possible money that may become free once the county leases or sells Duplin General Hospital.

But Commissioner Frances Parks said the county may need some of those funds to accomplish a balanced budget.

"We don't hardly know what the economy's going to do tomorrow," she said.

Turner said he was concerned about the possibility of using uncertain funding sources to build the school.

"It concerns me that possibly we would be trying to commit that money before it becomes available," he said.

Fussell said the lawsuit is also a big concern. It would require a 13.7 cent property tax increase just to pay the $4.8 million to the school board as stipulated in the lawsuit, he calculated.

"As long as the lawsuit threat is over our heads, and it still is, our hands are tied. It would be irresponsible to spend money without addressing the lawsuit," Fussell said.

The commissioners then voted 5-1 in favor of having three board members meet with three members of the Board of Education to discuss the ongoing litigation against the county, which is still being appealed at the state level. Turner cast the dissenting vote.

The meeting does not have to be open to the public since three members does not constitute a quorum.