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Wake Commissioners Freeze $13 Million From School Bond

Posted February 5, 2007

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— Wake County commissioners voted Monday to freeze $13 million from the $970 million school construction bond until they and school board members could agree on how it should be used.

The move came shortly after the commissioners voted to withhold $5 million of bond money school administrators planned to use to convert 22 traditional schools to a year-round calendar.

Commissioner Kenn Gardner asked school district administrators to review the $53 million project management budget they had put together in the wake of the bond's approval in November. When district officials told commissioners only $40 million in project management budget was accounted for in their plans, commissioners voted to freeze the extra $13 million.

Gardner said commissioners and school board members should determine how the additional money should best be used.

"We take that $13 million that now has no stated purpose," Gardner said, "put it in a reserve account until both boards can come up with a use for $13 million."

Commissioners earlier voted to release about $2 million to the district to move portable classrooms to traditional schools, which they said would give more flexibility to parents who do not want their children to attend year-round schools. They commissioners also approved funding so the district can proceed with planning for new school construction.

Last month, the commissioners had voted 4-3 to withhold more than $7 million from the Wake County school system, saying they needed more time to study the district's plan to convert 19 elementary schools and three middle schools to year-round schedules.

District officials say the year-round schools will provide them with the extra classroom seats they need to keep up with a booming enrollment. They said the commissioners' decision only delays hiring contractors to get projects started.

"We have to give the teachers equipment and the tools that they need so they can be ready (for the next school year)," said school board member Lori Millberg.

But the commissioners voted by the identical 4-3 margin against handing over $5 million of the $7 million to convert the schools to a year-round schedule and to pay for new mobile classrooms at the year-round schools.

Democrats said the Board of Commissioners is betraying voters who supported the school construction bond.

Republican commissioners said they hope the school board will find more choices for parents throughout the county. When those choices are available, some commissioners said they would give the money back.

"All I want to do is make sure parents have options," said Tony Gurley, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Parents who oppose mandatory year-round schools applauded Monday's vote, saying that withholding money for the school district is the only way more seats could become available at traditional schools.

"It's harder to get into the Wake County traditional schools if you are in mandatory year-round than it is to get into some of the hardest colleges in the United States," parent Nancy Myer said.

But teacher Jennifer Lanane, who is president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said she worries that students will suffer if the school district isn't given the needed resources.

"The children are getting lost. Education, great public schools, are getting lost. Teachers cannot do their job, students cannot learn," Lanane said.

School board Chairwoman Patti Head said she is extremely frustrated by the impasse with county commissioners. But she said she anticipates the year-round conversions will still take place in time for the 2007-08 school year.

School Superintendent Del Burns said the vote to hold the money is common when funds have no direct designation, but he acknowledged the tension between boards.

"In terms of back and forth with the board of ed and the commissioners, we're trying to move forward as best we can," Burns said. "There are times, and this is one of them, when there are different opinions and we have to work through them."

School leaders said they will continue to look for more seats in traditional calendar schools. Last Thursday, they showed off a plan that would create 2,400 new seats.

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  • alanvankirk Feb 6, 2007

    What is wrong with worring about vacation? Is there a problem with spending quality time with your children? Our familly lives in Arizona, If we are forced to year round there will not be a time when our three children are all out together. If they are when we go on vaction the cousins on a normal schedual would be in school. Also most of our vacations are very educational, I would dare say a day on vacation in Washigton DC they will learn far more than a day in school. How about a day at NASA in Florida, Even a day at Disneyland is a educational experience. The kids learn and never even know it. Mandatory year round is a knee jerk reaction from a inept bunch of administrators caught with there pants/skirts down...

  • Nutz4golf Feb 6, 2007

    "If the teachers don't want to go year round if that's what is required, then they should find another career"

    You will not find enough qualified people to teach with this attitude, because a lot of teachers will do just that. It is hard enough now to find "good" teachers now and you will need even more with year round schools.

  • Oh Smeg Feb 6, 2007

    If the teachers don't want to go year round if that's what is required, then they should find another career. Too often in education the 'wants' are put before 'necessity.' Especially if parents are more worried about vacations than they are about the education of their children.

  • deerslayer Feb 6, 2007

    I really feel very sad for all of you parents who are victims of this stupidity. Ruining people's lives is not the answer. There has got to be a better way.

  • mreese18 Feb 6, 2007

    I think it is interesting that commissioners are worried about ensuring that people have a choice. Apparently they are holding back money until a solution is made so parents will have an option and be forced into Year Round Schools. Do they know that some parents have been living with no choice for many years already? The Enchanted Oaks Subdivision has been forced into a Magnet High School ten miles away with not option for Traditional or otherwise.

  • Nutz4golf Feb 6, 2007

    It's not always about what parents want, have you talked to any teachers? Some teachers do not want to go year round because it is more stressful for them. How would you like a job that every few months you have to box up everything you have and store it, then a few weeks later, unbox everything into a new classroom never really getting settled in before you have to do that all over again.

  • superman Feb 6, 2007

    We have too many people trying to make the school decisions. The County Commissioners role is to adequately fund the school system. How u going to hold the school board accountable when the commisioners deciding things? I been paying property taxes for a long time and dont have children. My vote is for year round schools-- it is cheaper. You folks that have dropped a couple kids-- you can expect to be inconvenienced. Schools do not have the responsiblity to babysit yur kids. Any one who wants the traditional school should have to pay a couple thousand dollars for each child. I am not willing to pay more taxes so u rich people can vacattion in the summer. Sorry people-- but money aint raining at my house-- just yet! Lets cut school costs if we can. The heck with parents schedules.

  • feyerdncr Feb 6, 2007

    I don't think the commissioners are withholding money just to show they can...They are withholding money because the school board can't account for $13 million! Thank goodness someone is trying to figure out where all of that money is going. A billion dollars is a lot of money to give to a board that has such a fantastic track record of accounting for it!

  • diwanicki Feb 6, 2007

    I agree with a few posts done this morning. There is a school like that in Garner and they have now decided that that neighborhood should be split into 2 nodes. Well the elemetary school is right there why can't they be left alone to go to a school they walk to? It is a very good idea to have schools in neighborhoods. If you walk or go carpool, that saves the district some money. I hope one day both boards have somone yo-yoing them around and then they will know exactly how we feel.

  • LambeauSouth Feb 6, 2007

    How about using the money for what you told everyone it was for in the first place! Novel Idea huh?