01/19/06 — Commission hears list of school needs

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Commission hears list of school needs

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 19, 2006 1:50 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County commissioners acknowledged the county school system's five-year facility needs list Monday, but not without a dissenting vote.

The list is a collection of wants, not needs, dissenting commissioner Larry Howard said.

The list contains the board of education's plans to build two new schools, a high school and a school for kindergarten through third grade and to do major renovations at Charity Middle School.

Superintendent Tommy Benson said the needs list grew from $40 million five years ago to more than $86 million this year.

All of the schools are filled to capacity, maintenance supervisor Kermit Holland said. He said every time the state Department of Public Instruction lowers the student-pupil ratio and requires that the local school systems hire more teachers, the system needs more classrooms.

School officials said they have cut library sizes and squeezed classrooms into the remaining space, and have split vocational classrooms in two. The system has 50 modular classrooms.

Holland said the district is going to have to replace all of the underground heating oil tanks in the next three to five years. The boilers are aging out and will have to be replaced.

"There are a lot of needs we didn't put in this," he said.

The county's lawyer, Wendy Sivori, agreed with officials that the county commissioners needed only to acknowledge that they know about the district's needs. Commissioners did not have to approve the list before it could be sent to the Department of Public Instruction. The chairman need only sign the list.

L.S. Guy moved to acknowledge the list. Reginald Wells gave the second.

The vote was 5 to 1, with Howard saying he has no problem sending the state any information that is needed, he just wants to make sure the county has its priorities straight when it comes time to talk about a viable facilities plan.

He said he doesn't want the Duplin Board of Education "or anybody to put wants ahead of needs. If I have to approve a plan, I'm going to vote against it. I cannot see hiring an architectural firm to do the facility plan, knowing full well his fee will be based on the size of the buildings."

Guy said he can't see a big central high school. He said he has gone on the record from the start that the student population at the planned high school is going to be too large.

"New buildings do not improve education," he said. "Teachers do."