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Board of Education hears update on sales tax referendum 

By Erin Smith

Bladen County SchoolsThe Bladen County Board of Education met on Monday night and heard an update regarding the quarter-cent sales tax referendum. Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor updated the board regarding issues that will need to be addressed by the Board of Education.

Dr. Taylor said a quarter-cent sales tax, if approved by the voters, would generate $500,000 per year. He said, as the ballot issue moves forward, there are a number of things the Commissioners want the Board of Education to review and address. He said some Commissioners felt that by specifying issues such as which schools would have projects and a listing of exactly how the funds will be spent would help in getting the measure passed.

“I developed a preliminary five year plan and the board would have to approve that plan. I’ll have the facilities committee get together and provide more concrete information,” said Dr. Taylor.

He explained his proposal to the board. Dr. Taylor proposed using 60 percent of the sales tax funds to “help retire school debt.” He alluded to paying off the debt on the two high schools; however, $900,000 thousand of the Capital Outlay budget is currently being allocated for the school debt each year.

He said one of the items the school system will have to contend with is pre-construction costs. Dr. Taylor told the board if the referendum is passed in November and the county begins collecting those funds in the spring, the board would have $300,000 which can be placed in a escrow account and utilized for paying the pre-construction costs.

“Anytime we construct a building you’re going to have those pre-construction costs. This is a way you would be able to pay for that,” said Dr. Taylor.

He proposed using the remainder of the sales tax funds for school construction costs over the next several years.

Dr. Taylor told the board that in 2021, the debt on the two high schools will be paid. He told the board that would “free up” about $900,000 per year that could then put towards school construction. He said the retirement of the high school debt and the sales tax referendum together, would give the school district $1.5 million to use for school construction.

Dr. Taylor discussed the current facilities needs including multi-purpose buildings at Bladen Lakes Primary, Elizabethtown Primary and Bladenboro Primary. He recommended the board place $200,000 of the sales tax referendum towards the construction of those facilities.

“The final costs of a multi-purpose building would depend on the size of the building and all of the specifications we put in,” said Dr. Taylor.

He estimated the costs of a multi-purpose to be $500,000 each or $1.5 million total. Dr. Taylor told the board that debt could be retired over a short period of time.

He told the board there is a need for a cafeteria expansion at the Elizabethtown Primary School.

“Now this is an issue I’m going to recommend the board address as we have a better idea of what the enrollment is going to be like as it relates to charter schools. We know those numbers are going down and Elizabethtown Primary School is expecting to have over 500 students,” said Dr. Taylor.

He noted if the enrollment numbers change, the district may not need to expand the cafeteria but rather simply remodel the facility.

Dr. Taylor told the board there will also be a second five year plan of items to be addressed once the projects on the first plan are completed. He itemized East Bladen and West Bladen High Schools, Bladen Lakes, Elizabethtown Primary School, Elizabethtown Middle School, Bladenboro Middle School and Bladenboro Primary School that are still going to have issues needing to be addressed. East Bladen and West Bladen high schools are going to need a roof and four air conditioning units that need to be replaced at the School of Extended Hope (Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy).  Dr. Taylor recommended utilizing the remaining funds from the sale tax referendum to pay for those projects.

Dr. Taylor noted the Capital Outlay fund receives $1.4 million with $900,000 of that going towards the debt on the two high schools. He added the school district receives $300,000 on average from the lottery fund annually.

“As always there is this idea that we’ve gotten this huge sum of money from the lottery which we have not,” said Dr. Taylor. “The literature (from the NC State Lottery) will show now we have gotten about 17 or 18 million dollars but there is only about 4.8 million dollars that we actually got to use in the district. So a lot of it is smoke and mirrors.”

The Board of Education members listened to the presentation, and Board member Dennis Edwards inquired about a lottery grant which is offered and what the school district needs in order to apply for that grant. Dr. Taylor replied that Bladen County would be very high on the list for the grant; however at this time, the Board of Education does nto have a commitment from the Commissioners.

Edwards told the board that Columbus County has announced plans to reduce the number of schools in their county.

“I think every time we sit back and wait, we’re making a mistake,” said Edwards.

The facilities committee will meet on August 30th to further discuss the proposed plan.

Dr. Taylor said it is his understanding the State will issue an education bond at some point in the future.

In other business:

*The board heard a request from Wendy Paris to review and update the graduation policy at West Bladen High School. Her son Trey Paris and his friend Desmond Lesane were not allowed to wear their military cords during the high school graduation. She explained they had asked for permission to wear the cords before the graduation but that request was denied. Paris said Lesane’s mother also asked for permission for her son to wear the cords and the request was again denied. The boys had their diplomas taken from them following the graduation ceremony for wearing the military cords in violation of the school’s policy.

*The board received the meeting schedule for the 2018-19 academic year. The board will continue to meet on the second Monday of each month except for July and an additional meeting in June. The board also received an updated District Organizational chart.

*The board approved participating in a pilot program for Teacher Assistants that will reimburse the district up to $23,000 for Teacher Assistants who are in school seeking a degree.

*The board learned that seven teachers who were rifted earlier in the summer have all found jobs. Dr. Taylor said one teacher accepted another job, five teachers have been hired back by Bladen County Schools and one teacher had a licensure issue that has now been corrected.

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