Board grills Phipps

Published 2:12 am Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Staff writer

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps ran the Spanish-language gantlet at the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, earning praise from the board’s chairman for his performance.
“Dr. Phipps, you have weathered the storm well,” said Chairman Jerry Langley at the end of the discussion.
For nearly an hour, the commissioners questioned Phipps on the school system’s use of Spanish language in some school documents, in particular the system’s Code of Conduct for students, and the use of the Mexican flag at some recent school meetings.
The commissioners sought to discover which documents the school system was legally required to provide in Spanish and the cost of supplying those documents to students and parents whose use of English is limited.
“The question is, what are we required to do by law,” said Commissioner Al Klemm. “We need to know that, and we need to do no more than we have to because of the cost. A standard needs to be set.”
Phipps said that a combination of state and federal laws require that those things “that are considered critical information” need to be supplied in the language of a student’s parents regardless of the English-language proficiency of the student.
The student Code of Conduct, translated in 2008 into Spanish at a cost of $1,810, was considered critical because it includes, among other things, behaviors for which a student could be suspended from school, Phipps said.
He also said federal funds were used to pay for the translation.
Phipps noted that laws governing the school system on what documents must be translated into another language are often vague, depending on the section of the law that is read and interpreted. Often laws require that “where it’s practicable, the document should be in the language of the parents,” Phipps said.
Commissioner Hood Richardson expressed concern about the placement of the Mexican flag at the same height as the United States flag at a recent meeting for Spanish-speaking parents of students in the Beaufort County Schools
Phipps responded that flag protocol will be among the items discussed at the next meeting of county school principals.
Following the Spanish-language discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve a request by the schools to receive some $375,000 in appropriations from the county to cover building projects under way.
An agreement between the commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Education requires the two groups to meet quarterly in order for the schools to receive that quarter’s share of money for capital projects.
The commissioners also approved a request from Phipps to advance to the schools a portion of the 2010-2011 construction budget to allow the schools to seek bids on installation of a new roof at Washington High School.
In order for the work on the roof to be done during the summer, when school is not in session, bids would have to be received by May. The most-recent estimate for installing a new coating on the 116,000-square-foot roof is $376,000. The school system has a reserve in its 2009-2010 capital budget of $153,891, and it will need approval for the advance in order to seek bids on the project.
In other business, the board:
• Heard a report from Marisol Barr, representing the Martin County Community Action Program, on weatherization projects in Beaufort County funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The organization has received $7 million in stimulus money to provide insulation, caulking and other general weatherization measures for homes in six counties, including $1.2 million to provide weatherization for 233 homes in Beaufort County. The program takes applications, conducts energy audits and performs testing on homes to identify possible energy efficient safety and health measures, Barr said. The project’s Beaufort County office is located in Rooms 122-124 of the Washington Municipal Building. To date, the project has received applications to weatherize 213 homes in Beaufort County.
• Unanimously approved a resolution presented by Commissioner Robert Cayton opposing efforts of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition in its effort to revise the N.C. Transportation Equity Formula.
“We must oppose the reformulation or we are going to be back to dirt roads,” Cayton said.
• Voted unanimously to support efforts by County Manager Paul Spruill to seek any U.S. Department of Agriculture funds that may be available to clean out drainage ditches in Beaufort County to prevent future flooding of roadways.
• Voted unanimously to continue the Criminal Justice Partnership Program and appointed nine members to the board.
• Voted unanimously to release closed-session minutes regarding acquisition of the Chocowinity Industrial Park and economic development regarding an ethanol plant.
• Approved $4,590.50 in travel requests, with Richardson and Deatherage casting dissenting votes.
• Voted unanimously to grant tax refunds of $109.57 to Lona M. Armstrong and $47.88 plus interest to Martha H. Faulk.
• Approved amendments to the Department of Social Services budget to reflect increased funding for emergency assistance reallocated to counties across the state and additional federal stimulus funds allocated for child care, among other changes.
• Appointed William Page, Larry Britt and Cecil Smith Jr. to the Beaufort County Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority.
All commissioners attended the meeting.