11/26/12 — Keen says he will eye schools

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Keen says he will eye schools

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 26, 2012 1:49 PM

Wayne County Commissioner Steve Keen, who for months has lobbied for a review and update of the Board of Education's school facilities plan, last week said some action on the issue should be expected soon after the first of the year.

"As we are looking at the educational process here in Wayne County, yes, we have to get together," Keen said during last week's board session. "We have to understand. We have to collaborate with one another, and yes, we have to do it now.

"As one commissioner said, 'We have to act now.' We have talked, and talked, and talked. Well, there was action brought before this board about five months ago. We are still talking. There will be action, and that action will be in January."

Keen's comments came near the end of the meeting that included board approval of a preliminary plat for a 201-lot subdivision on the Pikeville-Princeton Road in the northwestern section of the county.

The approval prompted Commissioner Sandra McCullen to ask County Planner County Connie Price if there had been any discussion about the subdivision's possible effect on Northwest and Northeast elementary schools. Both are already at full capacity.

"It was not brought up," Price said.

The subdivision will be built in several phases, Price said. Based on averages, up to 500 people could live in the subdivision once it is completed and up to 175 school-age children, he said.

Commissioner Ray Mayo said people have asked him the same question. Both schools already have mobile units, he said.

The county needs to look at schools now, and not in three or five years, Mayo said.

The board of commissioners then approved Keen's motion to OK the plat by a 5-0 vote.

Keen has pushed for months for a joint meeting between commissioners and the school board, going so far as to speak during the public comment section of a school board meeting this past summer.

However, the five Democrats currently on the commission have declined to support Keen and Mayo, both of whom are Republicans. Instead, they agreed for Chairman John Bell, County Manager Lee Smith and staff to meet first with school board Chairman Eddie Radford, Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor and staff with an eye towards preparing an agenda for a joint meeting

The nonpartisan school board also declined to meet saying it would be better to wait until after this month's election.

But the Nov. 6 election changed the face of the commission that will now be controlled by Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction, with the GOP enjoying a 5-2 advantage.

"The Board of Education, the capital improvement plan, as you know, has been an issue with me for about the last seven months," Keen said. "It was a perfect example this morning of understanding why it is so important to have a capital improvement plan from the Board of Education. Where are they at the table? As far as I know, there is a plan that is from '07 to 2012. Some state that the (existing) plan is good and, 'Let's just keep it.'

"Well, how do we know we should keep it because we are commissioners that are approving subdivisions. If we are going to approve subdivisions, as you saw this morning, the Planning Department understands that. But you heard from the planning director there was no communication with the school system."

Keen said that he and Republican commissioner-elect Wayne Aycock had both served on the Planning Board.

In prior years up to about 2008, the Planning Board had one or two subdivisions every time it met, he said. Now there is a "large vacancy" of lots in subdivisions because of the economy, Keen said.

Instead of developing 100- or 200-lot projects at once, developers are building the subdivisions in phases, he said.

Keen has said the joint meeting would ensure that commissioners have a complete understanding of the county's educational picture.

However, Bell has argued that it is the school board's responsibility, not commissioners, to work out solutions to school problems.

Bell has expressed concerns that it is not the commissioners' job to dictate to the school board. Attempts to become too involved in the school board's business has been a source of conflict between the two boards in the past, Bell has said.