The Transylvania Times -

Board Discusses Seeking Millions For 'Deferred' Needs


September 21, 2017

The Transylvania County Board of Education discussed the possibility of requesting $19 million from the county commissioners for deferred maintenance during a bond update at its regular monthly meeting held at the Morris Education Center Monday evening.

Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said he is about to enter his sixth year on the board and “We have been talking bond and capital needs for an extended period of time during that six years. I think it’s time we start taking some straightforward moves to get things rolling.”

Kiviniemi said the school system has a large number of deferred maintenance items because capital needs requests had not been fully funded for the past several years. He made a motion, seconded by board member Marty Griffin, that the commissioners fund the school system $19 million to “catch up on these deferred maintenance items.”

He said it would be the commissioners’ decision as to how to pay for the $19 million, be it through a limited obligation bond or use of the fund balance.

Kiviniemi said some issues, such as lighting and HVAC, could be addressed “sooner rather than later.”

“The longer we wait, the more replacement and construction costs go up,” said Kiviniemi, adding that architects have said costs increase by 10-12 percent per year.

He said if $19 million were approved now, that would leave a general obligation bond of $74 million to be voted upon in November 2018.

Board member Alice Wellborn said the county commissioner have approximately $24 million in fund balance.

Griffin said people should remember that the initial figure to address the school system’s capital needs was $118 million and that the school system had reduced that figure by $25 million.

“I think a lot of people keep forgetting that,” said Griffin.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris said part of that decrease is predicated on completing projects at a faster rate.

“Which makes the $19 million more pressing,” said Kiviniemi.

Board Chair Tawny McCoy said she did not believe it was fair or feasible to expect the $19 million to come from the fund balance, and Kiviniemi agreed.

“It’s their choice. They have revenue raising authority. We do not,” said Kiviniemi.

McCoy said that before such a request for $19 million is made, the board needs to decide how the money specifically would be used.

Wellborn agreed that the school board would need specific details before making such a request.

Kiviniemi and Griffin then agreed to withdraw the motion.

McCoy said if the situation were reversed and someone was asking them for a substantial amount of money, the school board would be asking for specifics.

Board member Betty Scruggs McGaha then asked Norris Barger, director of business services and plant operations, how the $19 million compares to the needs of all the schools excluding the two high schools.

Barger said the $19 million would take care of almost all of the needs of the elementary and middle schools, as well as Davidson River.

Barger said the vast majority of work at the two high schools is “going to be tear down and rebuild.”

At Kiviniemi’s request, the board then reached consensus to have Barger prioritize a list of safety and security issues, as well as deferred maintenance that would not conflict with any new construction planned for later.

Barger said he could provide that information at the board’s next meeting in October.

In regards to meeting deadlines to have a bond referendum on the November 2018 ballot, McDaris reminded the board that the Local Government Commission recommends a 120-day process for approval for a bond referendum.

McCoy asked if the staff had any cost estimates for conceptual drawings, which would be one of the next steps in the process.

Barger said ClarkNexsen could provide conceptual drawings for $49,900.

McCoy asked if the board was ready to move forward with such a step.

Barger said the school system can move forward on selecting an architect and that such selections are often based on availability, prior work experience, etc.

School board attorney Chad Donnahoo said the board would have to seek RFQs (request for qualifications) from architectural firms.

Barger said it would take about 30-45 days to announce and receive RFQs.

Barger said having an architectural firm on board during the process would be advantageous because they could help answer questions about time frames, etc.

Kiviniemi moved that the board allow Barger to begin the process of selecting an architectural firm.

“How are we going to pay them?” asked McCoy.

Barger said the board would not have to pay “anything just to select one.”

McCoy then asked how they could help with the process if they were not getting paid.

Donnahoo said an architectural firm would probably do some “pro bono” work upfront knowing that it would be paid a substantial amount later.

The board then voted unanimously to begin the process of selecting an architectural firm.

Barger then asked if he should proceed with ClarkNexsen regarding the conceptual drawings and wait until the RFQ process has been completed. He said he preferred putting a hold on the conceptual drawings at this time because another architectural firm could be selected to do the specific drawings.

McCoy agreed.

McCoy also said the board needs to begin the process of receiving more information, so that they can answer the public’s questions in the coming months regarding a bond.

Barger suggested a “shared document” to which board members could send in their questions and school staff could answer them.

Cutting Principal’s Pay

Kiviniemi said one topic broached at a recent North Carolina School Board Association Board of Directors is the new administrators’ salary schedule adopted by the General Assembly this summer.

Kiviniemi said that in the past, a principal’s salary was determined by the number of teachers at the school and the principal’s years of experience. Under the new plan, the size of a principal’s school is considered but experience is no longer considered regarding pay.

Although no principals are to receive less this year than last year, Kiviniemi said there are principals discovering that their pay could be cut by $10,000.

Kiviniemi asked if the school staff could tell them how many local principals fall into that category.

Brian Weaver, senior director of human resources, said four of the nine principals in the school system would be affected by the changes.

Kiviniemi said the plan also provides bonuses for principals whose schools advance from not meeting growth to meeting growth or from meeting growth to exceeding growth.

He said a problem with that stipulation is that if a principal’s school exceeded growth for the two previous years, he would not qualify for any of the bonuses.

“So, there are a number of problems with the plan,” said Kiviniemi.

Kiviniemi said he plans to communicate with state Sen. Chuck Edwards and state Rep. Cody Henson how the changes would specifically affect local principals.

Kiviniemi said that if that many principals would be affected here, then it must be a “widespread issue” across the state.

Weaver said it would impact those in smaller schools the most. He said a principal in a smaller school who has 15 years or more experience would be taking a pay cut.

McDaris said the plan would make it harder to recruit and retain principals across the state.

“Principals are not going to go to certain schools because they know it will impact their salary dramatically,” said McDaris.

Kiviniemi said the General Assembly apparently developed the plan in reaction to North Carolina being 50th in the nation in principals’ pay. Based on the current plan he does not see North Carolina “moving out of 50th place.”

Student Fees

While discussing student policy, board members asked if there are any instances in which students are required to pay out of their own pockets to participate in programs.

McDaris said students in band have had to pay a fee. Weaver said students in some upper level science courses and other activities, like Muddy Sneakers, pay fees for those activities.

Both said, however, that fundraisers are held to cover the costs for students who cannot afford the fees.

Griffin asked if athletes had to “pay to play” or provide their own equipment.

McDaris said they do not, although some baseball and softball players have become so acclimated to their own equipment that they often use their equipment and not that provided by the schools. He also said coaches hold fundraisers to pay to expenses.

Burlingame Donation

Linda Crowther, Sondra Wells and Sandra Doyle presented a check for $25,000 to T. C. Henderson School of Science and Technology. Principal Audrey Reneau accepted the check.

“You could not ask for a harder working group of people,” said Reneau of the Burlingame representatives.

This is the second year in a row that Burlingame has raised $25,000 for the STEM program at T.C. Henderson.

Crowther said members of Burlingame are doing more than raising money.

Some members are mentoring students while another took a therapy dog to the school.

Summer Feeding 2017

The Transylvania County School Nutrition Department served 26,205 meals to students during the summer of 2017. That was 3,600 more meals than last summer.

The Lunch on the Bus program served 3,733 meals in 2017. In 2016, the program served nearly 2,000 meals.

Lunch on the Bus helps to reach children who stay at home during the summer break and do not have access to day-long programming, yet still need access to summer meals.

The Backpack Buddies program served 220 children this summer. There were three delivery dates that included four or more food packs as well as fresh apples and potatoes.

“We have a lot of children and families that depend on this, and I don’t know how they would get by without it,” said McDaris of the summer food program.

Superintendent’s Update

•McDaris said a recent report projected the impact of automation on future work in the U.S.

Currently 8 percent are employed in jobs at high risk of becoming automated, 33 percent are moderately high risk, 16 percent are moderate risk, 28 percent are moderately low risk and 15 percent low risk.

McDaris said another survey in 2015 estimated that up to 47 percent of U.S. employment is at risk of being automated.

•McDaris praised the N.C. Department of Transportation and Haywood EMC for their efforts to make sure school bus routes were clear and T.C. Henderson, which had lost power due to the remnants of Hurricane Irma, had electricity.

Important Dates

•There will be early dismissal for all students at noon on Oct. 18.

The next meeting of the board will be Monday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Morris Education Center.

•Oct. 26 will be a makeup day for Sept. 12. McDaris said the school system was not quite prepared to have a “virtual day” so early in the school year.

•Oct. 27 will be a teacher workday.

•Nov. 10 will be the Veterans Day holiday.


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