03/01/11 — County cancels school facilities meeting

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County cancels school facilities meeting

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 1, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners today canceled a planned meeting with the county Board of Education on Wednesday after learning that school board members were not planning on attending.

The meeting had been called for by the commissioners to discuss the school board's school facilities plan.

But commissioners said before their meeting this morning that without the school board's participation, the meeting would be useless.

School board Chairman Thelma Smith had indicated earlier that the commissioners might decide to cancel the meeting.

Commission Chairman J.D. Evans said commissioners had received word from schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor that the school board wanted to continue with the approved plan and there was no need to meet.

Evans said the information from the schools would be discussed by commissioners at their meeting today.

Much of the current discussion of the building plan centers on what the state and federal governments will do, given the budget problems in both Raleigh and Washington.

The state's proposed budget would shift more financial responsibility to counties for certain school costs that are now being paid for by the state.

"I am estimating a cost in excess of $1.3 million annually (for Wayne County) based on what I have researched," Smith said. "The other big issue is the lottery and the reduction in lottery proceeds ... it will affect our ability to pay back school debt."

Smith said he is still waiting for information from the schools to have a clearer understanding of what costs might be involved.

The county is applying for $15 million in bonds through the federal Qualified School Construction Bonds program for renovation, repair and construction projects at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools.

The bonds have to be sold by the end of December and the county has a three-year window in which to spend and complete the project. Failure to do so would cost the county access to the bonds.

The county will use lottery proceeds to pay the principal. By law, 40 percent of lottery proceeds are designated for school capital needs. The proposed budget would use most of that lottery money for state education expenses. It also would eliminate the counties' share of the corporate income tax dedicated to the Public School Building Capital Fund.

Local funds would be used to pay the interest. However, the interest will be reimbursed by the federal government, saving the county $750,000 to $800,000 per year.

Commissioners at their meeting two weeks ago voted 4-3 to hold the joint meeting this Wednesday at 1 p.m. in their meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

"No we are definitely not (going)," Mrs. Smith said. "One thing they had set the meeting time and date, but we were not contacted until after the fact.

"We have already made a decision about the facilities and will go with the plan. We didn't see the need to continue meeting. Time is going by and if we don't do it now we may miss the window of opportunity and be pushed back months or years."

Mrs. Smith said the school board thinks it has a good plan that addressed commissioners' concerns about drainage issues at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

Commissioner Jack Best pushed through the Wednesday meeting, voicing concerns that the $7.5 million Eastern Wayne Middle School project is a bad plan that is based on politics not what is best for the schools.

The meeting was first suggested by Commissioner Andy Anderson at the board's Feb. 1 meeting. However, no action was taken. Best brought the meeting back up at the board's Feb. 15 session.

Best voted in favor the meeting as did Bud Gray and Anderson. Steve Keen, John Bell and Sandy McCullen voted no.

Evans did not vote and in accordance with board policy, was counted as a yes vote.

Best also argued that all the work at Eastern Wayne would do is put a new fa├žade on what would still be an old school. He renewed his contention that the county would be better off to consolidate Eastern Wayne with Greenwood Middle School.

Best said the county needs to be taking a long-range look at school needs and that he would have no problem asking county residents to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for such a plan.

He also reiterated his contention that school planning is about politics, not the children.

The Norwayne project includes air conditioning the gym and the demolition of a classroom building to be replaced by a new two-story building.

Also, another old building is scheduled for some retrofitting and there have been conversations about possibly demolishing it as well and replacing it with a new one.

The Eastern Wayne project also includes demolition and construction of a two-story building for classrooms and an administration area. Other work includes air conditioning for the kitchen and gym.