12/06/12 — County wants to meet school board

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County wants to meet school board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 6, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners are pushing for a joint meeting with the board of education by no later than the third week in January to discuss the schools' facilities plan.

The item was not on commissioners' Tuesday agenda, but was added by Chairman Steve Keen, a Republican, who has lobbied for months for the meeting.

However, up until this week, the previous Democrat-controlled board had declined to support those efforts.

During the agenda briefing, Keen, who now sits as chairman of the Republican-controlled board, asked that discussion of a joint meeting be added under unfinished business.

During the board's regular session, Commissioner Ray Mayo's motion to schedule the meeting for no later than the third week was approved by a 6-0 vote. Commissioner J.D. Evans did not attend the meeting.

Keen asked County Manager Lee Smith if there was any indication of possible meeting dates.

"I talked with (schools Superintendent) Dr. (Steve) Taylor last week about this," Smith said. "I asked the question. He said that he and the (school board) chair were sending information to us that the board of education would be meeting on their five-year plan, or their capital plan, the second or third week of January, and that he would let me know this week when it was specifically."

Keen asked Smith if the meeting Taylor had mentioned was one that would include commissioners or if it would just be the school board.

"What I understood was that their board was going to meet. Then, after they meet, they would be prepared," Smith said. "What I understand is they as board, I guess they have had some changes, too, with the election, they wanted to go through the plans, the committees, and as a board, review the plan, and then be prepared to meet with you as a board."

Keen asked Smith if he started the budget process in January.

"We really don't start until March 1 because we do our nine-month (review) and get that out to departments in January/February," Smith said. "Usually Dr. Taylor and I start talking in February about what you are looking at for improvements, considerations of repairs and that type of thing."

Commissioner Joe Daughtery said if he understood Smith correctly, that the school board wants to postpone the meeting until it has some type of a preliminary capital improvements plan.

"As I understood it they want to review, particularly with new members, review the plan themselves and the staff, go over it, and I guess update their data with their board, and then meet with us," Smith said.

"That is fine, but I think the sooner the two boards can meet just to have a general discussion, not necessarily just on that topic, the sooner the better," Daughtery said. "It has been postponed too long. My impression is the sooner the two boards can meet to discuss a variety of topics I think the better."

Smith said that he could ask Taylor if a general meeting could be held this month. Such a meeting might help school board members in their work session on the plan, he said.

Keen said it was his understanding commissioners wanted to meet with the board of education and staff prior to January.

"Yes," Daughtery said.

Keen wanted to know if the school board met on Dec. 17, the day before commissioners' next session. Smith said he did not know.

Keen then posed that question to school board member Arnold Flowers.

"Mr. Chairman, I definitely want to talk about this, but I do not want to speak out of turn," Flowers said. "We had our board meeting (Monday) and in our closed session, we scheduled a time for our board to meet. It is not quite that quick. I definitely appreciate the urgency of it, and it is urgent."

However, Flowers said school capacities are something that takes time to determine because children can move between schools. As such, Taylor is compiling new numbers, he said.

"We are trying to get projections of which schools have had the most increase," Flowers said. "What we want to do, I can't speak for everybody, but I think what we want to do is when we meet with you, our board wants to be on one page about exactly what we feel like needs to happen and not just in five years.

"I am hoping that we can tell you what we would like to happen in one year, then maybe in three years, and then maybe in five. If it seems like we are being slow, we are trying to be concise. There are a lot of different opinions of how to do things, but when we present to you, we all want to be on one page."

Once the two boards "kind of decide" what the capital plan is for the schools, then the county will take it to Davenport and Associates, its financial consulting firm, Smith said.

"We will then bring back a proposal as to what the costs are," Smith said. "That takes two to four weeks so we will need a little time to do that."

Mayo said that in light of what commissioners had heard the meeting should be held no later than the third week in January.

He asked Flowers if the school board would be ready.

"I would hope so," Flowers said.

In other business Tuesday, before the board opened the public comment portion of its meeting, Daughtery made a motion to amend board policy that limits the time speakers have.

"I want to make a motion that we amend the policy of limiting citizens comments to three minutes once a month and replace it with a policy allowing citizens comments to a maximum of four minutes at each board of commissioners' meeting," he said.

The motion passed 5-1. Commissioner John Bell voted no.

One person, who regularly attends the meeting, spoke.

The board also approved a motion by Daughtery not to allow cemeteries as a permitted use in Light Industry zones.

Ronnie Matthews, who wants to establish a private cemetery at 423 Millers Chapel Road, had asked the county to amend the zone to allow cemeteries as a permitted use.

However, the county has received a petition from residents in the Elroy community, signed by nearly 250 people who are against the change.