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Cumberland County Schools Request Funds To Help Overcrowding

Posted January 16, 2007

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— Portable classrooms clustered outside school buildings are a common sight across North Carolina. Cumberland County has more than 200 of them this year. It's a textbook example of a fast-growing county that needs money fast.

"It's actually a short-term fix,” said Associate Superintendent Tim Kinlaw. “We currently have over $200 million of facility needs."

At a meeting scheduled Tuesday evening, the Cumberland County school board planned to ask county commissioners to borrow $55 million through certificates of participation, which would not require voter approval. They carry a higher interest rate than regular voter-approved bonds.

The money would be used to build a new middle school and two elementary schools. School officials said lottery proceeds will more than cover the payments.

"We're conservative, so we're confident that we're going to have sufficient revenues,” Kinlaw said.

Cumberland County last had a bond referendum in 1997. Since then, schools have grown by 8,000 students, and the state has required counties to reduce classroom sizes.

In addition to routine growth, schools could swell with another 2,400 students over the next four years from expansion at Fort Bragg.

County Commissioner Ed Melvin said the immediate funding plan would cost the county $7,000 a year more than general bonds over the next 20 years.

"Even though the lottery money is paying for it, I feel like the citizens should have the right to vote this bond up or down,” Melvin said.

To cover all of the county needs for school construction, school officials said they will eventually need to go to voters. However, they said they need to be able to do something in the short-term to alleviate overcrowding.

If approved, the needed changes are expected to be completed by 2008.

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