07/02/13 — School board wants meeting with county

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School board wants meeting with county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 2, 2013 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Board of Education member Arnold Flowers, left, asks a question during the school board meeting Monday. The Board of Education called for a meeting with the Wayne County Commissioners to discuss capital projects. Also shown are Chris West, center, and Chairman John Grantham, right.

After a nearly two-hour closed session Monday evening, the Wayne County Board of Education dispensed with its business handily before launching into the added agenda item -- seeking a joint meeting with the county commission "as soon as possible."

Chris West, vice chairman, made the motion for the two boards to "come to the table and discuss the issues at hand."

Board Chairman John Grantham said the main purpose for the session would be to discuss school projects.

"The reason we're requesting this, we're not interested in any kind of adversarial relationship with the county commissioners," he said.

He suggested that if the commissioners needed any information from the school board, they could ask for it and the school board would comply.

"And if they have any questions of us, they can ask us, we can ask them and have it all in public, so the public knows what's going on," he said. "And we don't have things go back and forth in the paper. That's really not the way we need to do the county's business."

Last month, the school board had submitted a request to the commission to consider funding 50 percent of the district's next three projects -- including the central attendance area and construction of additional classrooms at Charles B. Aycock High and Spring Creek Elementary schools -- and pursue a loan option to build a new Grantham Middle School, grades 5-8.

At its June meeting, the Board of Education had voted to keep a balance of $4 million in its half-cent sales tax fund and seek shared payment of the remaining 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 the more "critical needs" as well as a $3 million drawdown from the half-cent sales tax fund.

The district has access to both the estimated $11 million in sales tax money and $7.5 million in lottery funds, so by rights should be able to comfortably move forward on the projects.

When it came time to adopt a nearly $258 million capital improvement plan last week, though, the commission offered up its own version of a plan, a K-8 Grantham school with the added sting of asking the district to cut $500,000 in administrative costs to pay for it.

School board members have hinted that they believed they were closer to bringing the much-needed school and construction projects to fruition than they have ever been, until recent actions by the commission seemed to foretell of a derailment to the plans.

Board member Rick Pridgen cited comments made recently by someone who, after observing the two boards, said he "didn't feel we would be up for a meeting when we sent the request over to them."

"We certainly are," Pridgen said. "If they've got any question about what we've sent over and they'd like to discuss anything, we certainly are open to that. It's just that we were never asked to do that prior to their making a decision about what they wanted to do with our request."

Pridgen said he agreed with the notion of a joint meeting.

"We need to come to some common ground we can all agree on, because it's obvious that we can't vote on it until we do (agree)," he said. "If there's any questions or any materials that they would like to see, or like for us to provide, we would certainly be more than willing to do that."

Board member Arnold Flowers took a different approach, expressing appreciation for the commission's hard work.

"That's the way that I take all this, that they are trying to help us," he said. "And I feel like that us as a board, that we need to keep them at the table and we need to be at the table until we build a new school at Grantham and at Spring Creek because we desperately need those.

"That's why I'm going to be willing to do whatever we need to do so that at the end of the day, we'll have a new school at both places."

In other business, the board approved open and close times for schools in 2013-14, opting to operate under the same schedule as this past year.

The only comment on the issue came from Flowers.

"Last year when we talked about this, I was disappointed at the 45-minute difference at Spring Creek Elementary and Spring Creek High," he said. "It's still the same. A lot of my constituents called me and complained about that.

"I just want to make sure that everybody knows that we have a place for these children to stay at the school for 30 minutes. It seemed like some of my constituents didn't know that. We need to get the word out a little bit more that we actually have a place for their children to stay and be monitored."