Local News

Wake School Board, Commissioners Butt Heads Over New Issue

Posted May 7, 2007 11:17 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2007 6:42 a.m. EDT

— The Wake County School Board and the Wake County Commissioners once again have an issue over which they are butting heads. It’s a new issue with an old twist.

Two years ago, commissioners denied the school board’s request to lease a site at the Dubois Center in Wake Forest for a modular school. The board moved forward, using money out of its savings account.

Now, the board is back, asking for money to lease the land for five more years.

“This is exactly the situation we rejected several years ago,” says County Commission Chair Tony Gurley.

This time, the site would be used as a ninth-grade center to ease overcrowding at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School this fall. It would cost as much as $45,000 a year.

Gurley said he’ll vote no again because the school board didn’t consider alternative sites when the commission asked the board to review two years ago.

“We had excellent options at a much lower cost to the taxpayer, and we were ignored,” says Gurley.

The Dubois site made headlines after parents protested the temporary location for Forest Pines Elementary. They said the neighborhood was too dangerous. Developers offered other sites for free.

School officials said then that they felt the sites were either too narrow, had too many power lines or cost too much to develop.

“The cost analysis did, at the time, show it was not cheaper,” said Associate Superintendent Don Haydon.

For Gurley, though, there is one bottom line.

“We’re not getting a lot of cooperation from the school board,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Bryan noted that the school system made a fatal error when it sold the land in question to the Dubois Alumni Association back in 1998 for about $300,000. He says that by the time the county pays off the lease, it will cost the school system more than it made from the sale.

If the commissioners deny the latest request, the school board can move forward again by dipping into savings. By law, the board only needs approval if a lease is more than three years.

Gurley says that if there is no alternative, he’d vote in favor of the lease. Because the school board has the money to act independently, however, he wants to send a message.

Back in January, county commissioners voted to withhold $3.4 million  the board wants so it can convert 22 schools to year-round calendars. The 4-3 vote came down on the side of commissioners who say they don’t want students forced onto that schedule. The school board moved ahead by dipping into savings.

Since county commissioners have the responsibility of funding the school system, Gurley argues the school system shouldn’t have a savings fund from which to draw in the first place.