The New Hanover County Board of Education discussed a possible bond
referendum and long-term school safety during a retreat on Wednesday, Jan. 23, with Wrightsville Beach School’s overcrowding issues resurfacing as a main point of discussion about priorities included in the estimated $266 million bond.
Members Derrick Hickey and Lisa Estep disagreed about WBS renovations and additions moving up on the priority list. During the three-hour discussion, the item went from No. 14 of 25 on the facility needs survey list to No. 10, before moving back down to No. 14. The list, which is not finalized, now has a consensus among members.
Hickey asked what will happen if the bond referendum is not approved.
“What school do we currently have students taking classes at a church?” Hickey asked. “The kids at Wrightsville Beach don’t have a place to go to school.”
Estep said the Roland-Grise Middle School renovations should be ahead of WBS renovations, mentioning that only two classes have been relocated to Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church.
Bill Hance, assistant superintendent for planning and operations, and superintendent Dr. Tim Markley also disagreed about the ranking of WBS. Hance said he would move WBS down on the list, but Markley said trailers are only a temporary solution.
Hickey said those involved may want to think about building more new elementary schools than just the two already proposed, so they will not continue staying behind as they have been for years.
Decisions made in redistricting when schools end up with more students than expected is one of the factors leading to these decisions, Hance said.
Member Ed Higgins said the board asks for a bond referendum about every seven years. When a bond proposes new buildings it garners more attention from the public, Markley said, whereas this bond is about extending the life of the buildings.
“Wrightsville Beach ought to be torn down and needs to move off the island,” Higgins said. “... The school is too small; the track itself is too small.”
Markley drew a map showing the schools in the area, while saying that even though the school is on an island, the students would be moving to other overcrowded schools.
“Every school around Wrightsville Beach is crowded,” he said.
Once the list is finalized, it will go before the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for approval before being placed on the November ballot for public vote.
School board members said the full $266 million would not likely be approved by the county, so they tried to keep the most critical items within a self-imposed $150 million limit.
The less costly issue, but a hot topic of conversation since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, of placing sheriff’s deputies in the elementary schools, was largely supported immediately following the tragedy. On Wednesday, members talked about what the decision could mean for the long term.
The total cost for school resource officers in the schools for one year would total about $1.2 million.
“If we’re going to spend $1.2 million, is this the best use?” Higgins asked, also questioning the odds of a similar tragedy happening in New Hanover.
Hickey said this should be the community’s decision as to how to spend the resources, and suggested a survey of elementary school parents along with looking into the cost of a separate school police force made up of 24 officers.
Markley said he was hearing they want some sort of physical presence in the schools next year. Exactly what the presence is will be determined after the security review closes on Feb. 4 and the board’s February work session.