10/09/13 — Board anxious to get school projects going

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Board anxious to get school projects going

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 9, 2013 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Board of Education Chairman John Grantham, left, and county Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Keen look over figures during a joint meeting of the two boards on county capital projects Tuesday morning at the Lane Tree Golf Club. The projects include new schools.

The Wayne County Board of Education emerged from Tuesday's joint meeting with county commissioners more optimistic about moving forward on its school facilities plan, even if it had to wade through a detailed analysis of the county's debt profile to do it.

Financial consultants for the county took up the bulk of the morning meeting, presenting a capital funding analysis for the county, schools and Wayne Community College.

Several school board members said that rather than hearing about an all-inclusive plan that played out scenarios into 2042, they would have preferred a stronger focus on the schools situation.

"It was kind of encumbered in the fact that we were dealing with the county debt, Wayne Community College debt, the school debt," board member Chris West said. "We're not in the business of running the county's government. We're in the business of education.

"It would have been better as far as I'm concerned to have seen the entire picture, what debt the school was encumbering on the taxpayers. They have got a $224 million capital improvement plan, and we're just a small portion in the grand scheme of things."

West said he appreciated all the work that went into the presentation, but felt it was more geared to the county government side than the school system.

"I just thought we were sitting in the county's business," he said of the meeting. "We have tried to find some innovative ways to financially meet our needs based on what we can afford to pay. If someone would do our debt portfolio per se like they did the county's, I think our numbers would be promising as well."

Board member Arnold Flowers said he understood the need for the county to present a "total picture" and appreciated the effort but agreed with West.

"As far as a school board member, everything as far as the commissioners' long-term plan or obligation or dream, would be all co-mingled together," he said. "The county, I guess they have to do it that way.

"But the other side of that coin, just the school board's wishes or desires, we have got more than enough money to do what we are asking to do. In the school board and the county coffers there is about $20 million that we have on hand."

Flowers said the school system receives about $4 million a year in sales tax receipts and a little over $1 million in lottery receipts, for a total of $5 million. Of that, he added, $1 million is obligated to pay off recently completed construction projects.

"We get enough lottery money every year as we speak to pay the payments on Eastern Wayne and Norwayne renovation projects," he said. "What that tells me is that we have $4 million in revenue, income, that's free to finance what the school board wants to build.

"With the $20 million we have on hand, I don't see how we're encumbering the county at all."

Board Chairman John Grantham also maintained the need to begin building the proposed new schools.

"We can have a school on the ground in two years in Grantham. We could actually open it in the fall of 2015. That's do-able because I have done that myself," he said, referencing his former experience in school construction.

Should the notion of a bond referendum be introduced, however, Grantham had some reservations.

"I definitely don't think it would fit into the timeline here," he said. "One thing to consider, we can't commit a future board or school board (to this)."

Flowers said he favors beginning the latest projects on the facilities plan, especially in light of a recent report by an engineer suggesting construction prices are increasing by an average of 6 percent a year.

"What I would like to see us do is use that money that we have on hand to do the central attendance projects and pretty much pay for them and new classrooms for Spring Creek and pretty much pay for them as much as we can and then build Grantham and Spring Creek as one project, and then break ground in 2014," he said. "That's what I would like to see happen.

"And for the life of me I don't see why we can't. We're not asking for crystal chandeliers and artwork in the parking lot. We're asking for needs, basic needs. And I feel like the commissioners want to get on board with us. I'm convinced we can do all of it without burdening the taxpayers any more than we already are."