12/06/17 — County approves more classrooms

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County approves more classrooms

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 6, 2017 5:50 AM

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Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery made the motion Tuesday to spend $1.4 million to add eight new classrooms to Meadow Lane Elementary School. The motion passed 3-2.

Eight more classrooms will be added to the new Meadow Lane Elementary School now under construction, but a new elementary school for southeastern Wayne County has been put on hold.

Tuesday morning, Wayne County commissioners by a 3-2 margin approved the $1.4 million addition.

But the approval came with a caveat -- the school board must commit to a yearly re-evaluation of elementary school district lines.

And Chairman Bill Pate indicated that the board's patience is being tested by constant school facilities issues.

The board approved several other related recommendations from County Manager George Wood as the county struggles to meet a new state mandate to reduce classroom size.

Commissioners John Bell and Ray Mayo left the meeting early and were not present for the vote.

In making his recommendation to add the classrooms, Wood said it would cheaper to build them now rather than later.

"Also, the southeastern part of the county is where a lot of growth is," he said. "Mandate or no mandate, we are going to run out of classroom space for kids down there.

"So in my mind the eight doesn't have that much to do with meeting the mandate. It has to do with meeting growth that we already have."

However, Commissioners Joe Gurley said the constant school facilities demands reminded him of a "runaway locomotive."

And Commissioner Wayne Aycock suggested that instead of building more classrooms that some of the space at the old Meadow Lane Elementary School be saved and used.

Aycock said he had "heartburn" about building eight classrooms.

"Over the past year we have done the bond (that included schools)," Gurley said. "Now they (school board) want eight more classrooms and a new school in the southeastern part of Wayne County on top of the new Meadow Lane, on top of the new classrooms in northern Wayne County, on top of the gym and classrooms in southern Wayne County.

"I want someone to please explain to me how and when the need for these eight classrooms came about. Who discovered it?

If it is to remove pressure off the Spring Creek Elementary School area, when did the board of education staff know about it, Gurley said.

Commissioners only heard about it over the past three to four weeks, he said.

Wood told Gurley his point was well made.

Looking at the schools in the southern end it should be obvious they are growing and filling up, Wood said.

Wood said he and Assistant County Manager Craig Honeycutt met with school officials in July or August and asked that they have something prepared by September.

The county is looking at an approximately $60 million capital improvement plan for buildings other than schools, Gurley said.

It includes projects that need to be done, and at some point tough decisions are going to have to be made, he said.

The schools already have brick and mortar and the school board needs to look at redistricting as a way to help relieve the burden on taxpayers, Gurley said.

Chairman Bill Pate asked how much would be saved by adding the classrooms now.

About $400,000, Wood said.

"But in my mind, Bill, it is not even the money," Wood said. "It is the fact we are flat-out running out of classroom space down there."

Pate said he agreed with Gurley and Aycock.

"I am concerned that every time that we think that we are there, they come up with something else," he said. "This is a hard decision to make because I respect what they (Gurley, Aycock) are saying down here.

"But I have changed my mind and am going to look at this as a business decision. But I want them to understand that they have a hard time getting my vote again if they don't think these things out and not bring up these things to us like this."

Commissioner Joe Daughtery agreed with Pate's comments about the eight classrooms being a better business decision.

The classrooms and shifting district lines to bring more students to Meadow Lane Elementary School could buy the county a few years, he said.

Along with approving the eight new classrooms and waiting on building a new elementary school commissioners agreed in the 3-2 vote to:

* Study the academic viability of co-teaching 10 classrooms in order to significantly reduce the cost of this mandate if it remains; and wait on the state lottery funding for whatever mandate remains.

* Lobby the legislature to repeal or amend the mandate or have it financed by the state -- particularly if the state is going "to steal your lottery money," Wood said.

* Try to get additional funds in fiscal year 2019 to offset the $2 million lost under the state's low-wealth formula.

* Lobby the legislature to change the language in the fiscal year 2019-2021 state biennial budget to exempt Wayne County from the low-wealth formula like other counties with military bases, setting the threshold at 17,000 students rather than 23,000.

The mandate will be in effect in seven months, but it will take more than two years to build a new school, Wood said.

Legislators have set a mandate that is impossible to meet, he said.