11/29/05 — Boards will discuss facilities budget tonight

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Boards will discuss facilities budget tonight

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 29, 2005 1:47 PM

After months of arguing over how much and where to spend money to improve Wayne County's school facilities, school officials and the county commissioners will meet tonight to try again to begin finding common ground.

But when they meet this time, there won't be a whole lot of discussion, officials said.

Instead, when the two boards get together in the school system's administrative offices, they will hear a presentation by Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm based in Florida, county commission clerk Marcia Wilson said.

Based on the facilities plan provided by the Wayne County School District, the consulting firm will recommend what building or repairs need immediate action.

"This offers to the school board validity to what they need," Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said. "It allows us to also conduct a financial analysis."

The county has not paid Evergreen Solutions for conducting the facilities study. However, Smith said, the price tag could be as much as $80,000.

"It depends on the depth of the studies, but we have money set aside," he said. "We budget for things like that."

The county commissioners and the country manager requested the impartial consultant. Evergreen was chosen because the firm has no ties to the county or school system, Smith said.

The idea is to get the best possible picture of the district's needs and the county's ability to fund the requests, Smith added.

"The county commissioners have asked for several years for a detailed plan from the schools," he said. "We are aware of their problems and needs. We just want to make sure we do things fiscally right."

Board of Education members have historically been resistant to the idea of having a consultant determine the district's facilities plan. There is the added concern over spending money on an adviser -- funds board members have said could be better used for maintenance projects.

Board members also have expressed frustration in recent months over the setbacks and the slow pace of the commissioners' decision on the budget. Several plans have been presented to commissioners, with each being rejected, while the cost to maintain older buildings continues to climb, members have said. Every time this happens and no money is allotted for the burgeoning list of projects, the school system falls farther behind, school officials said.

However, board members said they are willing to try again.

Board member Rick Pridgen said he remains optimistic about this evening's joint meeting, and to hearing what the consultant has to say.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with the county commissioners again," he said. "I hope it will put us one step closer to doing something for the facilities plan."

Uncertain whether Evergreen will be able to provide any additional information other than what the school board has already provided, Pridgen said he has been impressed with the company's record.

"According to what I have read, they have done some other things with school systems in North Carolina," he said. "That may be a plus."

Board member Shirley Sims said that by design, the meeting is more of an information session.

Eliminating any type of interaction between the boards seems just like another stalling tactic that will extend the debate on the budget and slow the process, she said,

"We will not be able to go away with anything that would be of importance to us," Mrs. Sims said. "It just seems like, since 2002, each time we have assembled it seems like something else to belabor the issue, when the bottom line for me is, when do we get the money to do what we need to do for the boys and girls of Wayne County?"

Her other concern was over the timing. She said this evening's program coincides with a previously announced appearance by Rep. Larry Bell.

"I'm very disappointed in the conflict," she said. "Of course, not everyone is in his district, but House Speaker (James) Black is going to be there, also. For those who reside in Rep. Bell's district, it's important to be there and support him and the house speaker."

Board chairman Lehman Smith said he would reserve comment until he heard the presentation.