01/18/13 — County leaders talking schools

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County leaders talking schools

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 18, 2013 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commission Chairman Steve Keen Thursday tried unsuccessfully to block discussion of education during the board's seven-hour planning retreat, arguing that it would "supersede" a pending joint meeting between commissioners and the Wayne County Board of Education.

The nearly 20-minute discussion, at times marked by pointed exchanges, was facilitated by retired Extension Agent Wanda Sykes, who asked commissioners why they wanted to address education.

"Because our constituents asked us to," said Commissioner Joe Daughtery. "I, for one, am not interested in just funding education and not being a part of trying to improve it."

However, Mrs. Sykes reminded commissioners of their limited role in education.

"If you want to see accomplishments, then you need to make sure you can do something about what you say you are going to do," she said. "It may be an issue, but you all may not have any control.

"Education, you know what, that is one of them that all you can really do is fund. You don't really have a whole lot of control other than to fund it."

Education was one of about a half dozen issues commissioners identified as being of top importance during the retreat held at the Goldsboro Country Club.

Keen has pushed for the joint meeting on the schools' facilities plan for months. He said he had spoken to school board Chairman John Grantham, who had also spoken to schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor, and that a meeting will be held within the next four to five days to set the ground rules for the joint session.

That meeting also will include commission Vice Chairman Ray Mayo, County Manager Lee Smith and school board Vice Chairman Chris West, he said.

Democrat Commissioner John Bell reminded the board that he suggested the same sort of meeting six months ago, which, he said, Keen opposed.

"Mr. Chairman, when I was going to do that, you kicked me right in the teeth," Bell said.

Smith asked if it would be appropriate to also talk about WorkKeys and graduation/success coaches in the joint session.

Those are things that tie back into education, and commissioners obviously want to know if they are working, he said. Smith said he would assume there would be discussion since those issues are going to drive programs.

"The ground rules will be set and will involve all that we are talking about education, and what they are talking about education, their capital improvement plan and what Mr. Smith just said about these other items or monies," Keen said.

"What does the county give education? I guess setting an agenda is what we will be doing."

Several commissioners, particularly Daughtery, laughed at Keen's apparent poke at a News-Argus article that noted there was no agenda for Thursday's meeting. It was one of several references to an agenda.

There is not any "agenda agenda," for the joint session, Keen said.

"It is just how we handle it," he said. "Instead of getting in a catfight how do we handle it?"

Commissioner Wayne Aycock said that in the past there had been no communication between the two boards.

Those comments prompted Bell to take commissioners to task for what he called repeated assertions that there is dissent between the two boards. He also pointed out that the school board had already made a decision on its facilities plan.

Bell said he could not understand why people continue to say there is no communication between the two boards. Aycock said he did not say that.

"For about six years, we met with the school board on a regular basis," Bell said. "They do not like commissioners coming into their domain trying to tell them how to run the schools, and build their buildings, and how to do all of that stuff.

"I think Mrs. Sykes hit it on the head a while ago that what the school board wants from us is funding."

Commissioners do not want to tell the school board members what to do, but do want to communicate with them, Aycock said.

"This is a new board," he said.

"We are not talking about new boards," Bell said. "I have been on this board now for almost 13 years and we have communicated with the school board. I keep hearing people say there has been such discontent. I don't know where that is coming. I don't know where you are getting that from."

"I am just telling you we are going to communicate with them," Aycock said. "We are not going to try to tell them what to do. But there is going to be communication going on between the two boards. I'll just leave it at that."

There is no dissent between commissioners and the school board, Bell said.

Commissioners, to be good stewards of taxpayers' money, have to communicate with the school board, Keen said.

Mrs. Sykes tried again to press commissioners on how they were going to deal with education.

"We have accomplished our first goal, we are meeting," Keen said. "We are actually meeting jointly."

"So you don't know what the end results will be on that one?" she said.

Keen said that he would not speculate on the issue and didn't want it discussed.

Education is a big part of economic development, Mayo said.

"What we are talking about here is what the board of education has control over," he said. "We are going to be talking about when we get to economic development, which is my expertise, is what Wayne Community College is doing to educate potential workers for new industries, new businesses moving into Wayne County.

"All of this is entwined together with education."

Daughtery said that he thinks that to some extent economic development, job opportunity and business development have a "lot to do" with how the county funds school buildings.

"I don't necessarily think that we are going to able to totally rely upon funding from the lottery and other things to fund what we need," he said. "We have got to recognize that in our county the average citizen out here has the feeling that we have underfunded our capital needs in schools for years for whatever the reason.

"I hope that we are going to discuss that when we meet with the school board."

One question that also needs to be asked is how many empty classrooms there are in the county, Bell said. Daughtery agreed.