08/08/12 — Keen calls out school board

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Keen calls out school board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 8, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Steve Keen said Tuesday he is not happy that the county Board of Education has not responded to an invitation to hold a joint meeting with the Board of Commissioners.

"I am a little disappointed to hear that the Board of Education met last night and did not set a date for our meeting that we voted on having prior to Sept. 1 in order to discuss capital improvement projects and overall finance as far as education is concerned in Wayne County," Keen said during the commissioners biweekly meeting. "I am a little concerned because I am seeing no urgency there. With that said, we have just placed a quarter of a million dollars in their hands today.

"We could have spent that money anywhere in the county. It was given to the county to spend and we chose to spend it in education, and rightly so. We certainly need the funds."

Keen was referring to $230,000 the county ABC Board gave to the county after it realized a one-time surplus resulting from changes in state policy and increased revenues. Commissioners earlier agreed that the money would be used for school classroom supplies.

Keen said he believes the windfall provides a "great springboard" to demonstrate the county has been prudent in spending. It also shows that commissioners are as concerned as school officials and teachers about providing students with the materials they need, he said.

"It is their business. But we are the funding arm, and we are just as concerned as they are," Keen said. "To not be readily available right now, right now, school is starting very shortly. It has been a quick summer.

"Let's get together and let's talk about this. We voted on it to do it. I would encourage the Board of Education to come and let us get together quickly and let's talk planning for the improvements for the Wayne County School System."

After initially being unable to convince his own board, Keen took the unusual step in early July of appealing directly to the school board during the public comment section of its meeting.

The only response that evening was from school board member Chris West, who said he supported such a meeting.

Keen had difficulty convincing commissioners to call for the meeting. The first motion approved by a split vote earlier this summer was for County Manager Lee Smith and commission Chairman John Bell to meet with school board Chairman Eddie Radford and Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor.

However, Keen continued to lobby for the joint session that was finally approved by another split vote last month. The meeting between Bell, Smith, Radford and Taylor is still on and will be used to set the agenda for the joint session.

"As I understood this morning, there was no conclusion on meetings," Smith said in response to Keen. "They are supposed to let me know something, the superintendent and chair, sometime later this week. As soon as I hear something I will get it out to you."

Keen then read from Smith's 2012-13 budget message, in which Smith recommended an additional $250,000 for the schools to offset a reduction in low-wealth funding by the state.

Keen said there had been talk of a capital improvement plan that was brought up at a budget work session with $1 million being asked for school facility work.

A couple of weeks later it was decreased to $750,000, then $500,000 before settling on $250,000, Keen noted.

"Personally, one of the reasons I voted against the budget is we didn't give them enough," Keen said.

However, Bell has questioned Keen's concern over the amount of money involved, saying that by voting against the budget he had, in effect, voted against funding the schools at all.