BCS wants more construction funds

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Citing the need for one long-delayed construction project, a growing list of vehicles that need replacing and several safety measures, the Beaufort County Board of Education will ask county leaders to increase the money they give for school construction projects by some $500,000.

Some school board members said after the vote that they don’t believe the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will fund all the projects they are requesting in the public schools’ capital budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said he’s “cautiously optimistic” the commissioners will allocate funds to meet the construction needs identified by school leaders.

“I don’t think there’s anything on the list that’s not a real need for the school system. I don’t think there’s anything on it that’s frivolous,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is make a case for what we’re requesting.”

“If we don’t continue to hold our own and make gains in the capital area, we’re going to pay a bigger price down the road,” he said.

At its meeting Monday in the Training Center at the Beaufort County Ed Tech School, the school board, in a split vote, approved a $1,674,637 capital-budget request for 2012-2013.

Board members Cindy Winstead and Terry Williams voted against the request.

The vote followed a line-by-line and school-by-school discussion of nearly $5 million in construction needs that had been identified by the county’s public-school leaders.

The school board is scheduled to meet Monday with the commissioners to make its case for its 2012-2013 capital budget and $13.1 million operating budget.

Last year, the commissioners cut the school district’s requested $1.5 million construction budget to $467,860 with the provision that the county would appropriate any funds from the North Carolina Education Lottery — estimated by county officials to be about $500,000 — to the school system for construction projects.

They also reduced the county’s contribution to the school system’s operating budget from $12.6 million requested by the schools for 2011-2012 to about $11.9 million — a sum about equal to the district’s local appropriations for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Monday’s school board meeting was called after its members failed to reach a consensus on its construction-budget request at a meeting of the board last week.

The most divisive issue during Monday’s discussion was a request for $600,000 in the capital budget request to build a new multi-purpose building at Eastern Elementary School.

Board member Robert Belcher advocated for its inclusion in the budget, saying Eastern Elementary School is the only school in the county without a multi-purpose room, and, as a result, the school has no space for a campus-wide meeting and no space to hold physical-education classes during inclement weather.

“It has been put off every year since 1966,” he said. “If you think you need this, you have to put it in front of the commissioners, because if you don’t do that, you’re not doing your duty for the schools.”

Winstead took issue with Belcher, saying that during the current economic downturn, school leaders should focus on maintaining the district’s existing buildings and work to make them more energy efficient.

“With the economy the way it is, I think our focus should be on maintaining what we have and trying to make it as energy efficient as it can be,” she said.

Board members Mike Isbell and Williams agreed with Winstead, and the three cast votes against making the project part of its capital budget request.

Another divisive issue for school leaders was the request for funding electrical upgrades and new air-conditioning units at the Ed Tech Center.

Some board members questioned the need for any improvements at the school. But after a tour of the campus Monday, the board voted to include $59,950 for electrical upgrades and 10 new air-conditioning units in its capital-budget request.

Board members, however, were more united in a request for $160,000 to repave the bus parking lot and rear entrance to Northside High School, agreeing the existing asphalt had fallen into disrepair because of faulty workmanship when the school was built.

The capital-budget request also includes $89,775 for replacing roofs at four schools and one building at the district’s central office on Smaw Road.

“These are our most pressing roof needs,” Phipps told the board. “All are either leaking or have structural issues.”

Also included in the capital budget is $60,714 to install automated heating and air-conditioning controls at Southside and Washington high schools.

School officials hope the new systems will lead to lower energy and maintenance costs at the schools. If so, they hope to expand the automated system to other schools in future years.