06/04/13 — School board wants to keep $4M in half-cent tax fund

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School board wants to keep $4M in half-cent tax fund

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 4, 2013 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education on Monday night voted to keep a balance of $4 million in its half-cent sales tax fund and will ask county commissioners to share payment for several facilities projects and pursue a loan to build a new school in Grantham.

At recent work sessions hammering out a workable budget for the coming year, the board has indicated it wants to move forward on the remaining construction projects in the 2007 facilities plan.

Its county budget request for 2013-14 contained a $3.4 million "special county appropriation" to address some of those more "critical needs" as well as a $3 million drawdown from the half-cent sales tax fund.

The district has access to approximately $11 million in sales tax money and almost $7.5 million in lottery funds that could be applied to the projects, board members said, so it would be wise to consider how much to spend and how much to keep on hand.

Board member Dr. Dwight Cannon presented the motion to keep the half-cent sales tax minimum in reserve at $4 million. The motion passed, with only one board member, Rick Pridgen, in opposition.

"Personally, I feel like you need to maintain $7 million," Pridgen said prior to the vote. "I know how everybody feels and I know this is probably going to pass. I'm not saying that I'm against it, other than the fact that I don't think it's high enough. I think it should be at least $6 million. That's my personal opinion."

Cannon said he understood Pridgen's position but would prefer not to borrow additional money when there is a "plethora of money" the board could access for projects.

"Four million dollars is a lot of money, but not a whole lot of money considering what we need to do," said board member Eddie Radford. "We do have a lot of projects sitting on the table."

Chairman John Gran-tham said it is a challenge to plan for the unexpected, but there are many needs to address.

"Four million is actually more than we used to have," he said, recalling a time when the school board had asked for an expanded budget.

"Back then we didn't have the lottery," he said. "We had one fund balance, anywhere from $2 to 4 million. I feel pretty comfortable with the $4 million."

The board has battled several financial obstacles in recent years -- from the economy to state reversions and paying off debt service. Now that the school debt has been paid off and the district is accumulating money in the half-cent sales tax and lottery funds, it is in a position to actually "make a dent" into some of the projects that have been in the facilities plan since 2007, said Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor.

Board member Chris West made a motion to request the commission consider funding 50 percent of the district's next three projects -- in the central attendance area and constructing classrooms at Charles B. Aycock High and Spring Creek Elementary schools -- and pursue a loan option to build a new Grantham Middle School.

"They fund half and we fund the other half," explained Grantham. "The new school we're asking the commissioners for, we can't borrow the money but will have the money coming here yearly that we can make payments."

Next in line on the priority list are $1.9 million earmarked for air conditioning gyms at Carver Heights Elementary and Dillard Middle schools and creating a student commons area at Goldsboro High School; $3.8 million to construct 12 classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary; and $6.6 million at CBA to renovate the cafeteria and construct 20 classrooms.

The latter would also eliminate the need for additional mobile units, which West estimated would cost approximately $175,000 to move to the high school.

Board member Arnold Flowers said he would like to eventually do away with the modular classrooms, at that school and others around the county.

"They're necessary but weren't designed to be a permanent fixture," he said.