03/17/13 — Commissioners, school board look into future of facilities

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Commissioners, school board look into future of facilities

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 17, 2013 1:50 AM

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Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor addresses a question from a Wayne County commissioner during a joint meeting of the Board of Education and county commissioners Friday morning at the Wayne County Schools administrative offices.

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Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery, left, listens as Dr. Steve Taylor highlights the process leading up to approval of the school facilities plan in 2007. Also pictured are school board member Chris West, center, and Commissioner Wayne Aycock.

Class was in session Friday morning for both Wayne County commissioners and Wayne County School Board members as each sought to school the other on their respective roles in public education.

Funding, normally a driving force behind meetings, did get a brief mention, but for the most part, both groups agreed the detailed discussion could wait until another day.

No real new ground was broken, but for the school board, Friday's two-hour meeting was an opportunity to show the lengthy and involved facilities planning process over the years, which had included numerous meetings with commissioners and resulted in the district's 2007 facilities plan.

It also was an opportunity for the school board to share student population data to support its decision to carry out the remainder of the plan.

There have been enrollment shifts around the county over the past decade, said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent accountability and student services. But nothing that warrants making major changes to the plan, he said.

For commissioners, it was a chance to express concerns over the length of time it takes to have a school built, the overcrowding at some schools and the number of mobile units now in use across the district.

School board members Eddie Radford and Chris West provided representative examples, from narrow hallways and crowded lunchrooms at Charles B. Aycock High School at Pikeville to storage rooms being converted into classrooms at Grantham School.

And there was a reminder that school facilities are just a part of a much larger countywide facilities puzzle.

Members of both elected bodies agreed that perhaps the most important part of the meeting was that they learned more about the other and had dispelled the perception by some that there was friction between them.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery said one of the more enlightening aspects of the meeting was seeing how long it takes from when a decision is made to build a school to actual completion.

Daughtery said he would like to see that time reduced. He also mentioned looking at more energy-efficient buildings as a savings measure.

Overall costs, including operational costs, need to be considered, he said.

"I hope the two boards can work together to get this solved and get it solved quickly so that we don't lose a generation of children while we are arguing about what schools to build," he said.

School board member Arnold Flowers said he was impressed with Daughtery's interest in expediting the process.

He was the only one to stray into school financing by suggesting that commissioners free up to between $5 million and $6 million over the next two years. That, he said, would allow building one of the desperately needed middle schools at Grantham or Spring Creek.

Other funding options could be a bond referendum or even a tax increase, Flowers said.

The public would more readily support a tax increase if it was earmarked for new schools, he said.

Commission Chairman Steve Keen, who had advocated for the Friday meeting for nearly a year, also broached finances, saying that the funding sources "are not there like they used to be."

"We cannot ignore that," he said.

He also voiced concerns that failure on the county's part related to education and facilities could adversely affect the area during the next round of Base Realignment and Closure discussions. Keen questioned whether the county would have all it needed before the next BRAC decision.

"Getting back to Mr. Daughtery as far as time to do this, can we afford it? How will we afford it?" Keen said. "And the time is now. We have to make a decision on how we are going to move forward with our facilities. Not just the schools, but all of the county's facilities -- whether it is the jail. Whether it is the library.

"But we have to find the funds because they are being shut down on the federal level. They are being shut down on the state level. So when it comes to here in the county we have got to decide how we are going to fund it and that is what this meeting is about today."

"We appreciate your interest in meeting with us, working with us, and looking at our plan, and to see how we can move forward," Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said. "Certainly we would have liked to have everything in that plan done by now, but we have been able to make progress. I think that we leave understanding each other.

"I think that we all understand what our roles are and where our involvement starts and where it ends."

"In order to get to a man's pocket, you have got to get to his heart," Keen said.

"I sure hope that we got to your heart," Taylor said, adding, "Will you sign a pledge when you leave?"