Schools bond referendum discussed by key players

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Supplied photo courtesy of New Hanover County 

Principal Maria Greene, from right, with New Hanover County Board of Education member Jeannette Nichols and New Hanover County commissioner Beth Dawson leads a joint tour of College Park Elementary School on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

The latest date concrete decisions can be made about the New Hanover County Schools bond referendum is about six months before the November 2014 general election if the decision is approved to include the referendum on the ballot.

The New Hanover County Board of Education and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at College Park Elementary to discuss the details of the schools bond referendum.

Agenda items included talking about the project items priority list, the bond amount and the bond timeline, but there was little discussion about a figure the commissioners would agree with and the timeline for the largest projects — one new northern elementary school in Porters Neck and three school replacements, including extensive Wrightsville Beach School renovations.

To end the meeting, member Lisa Estep asked the commissioners, “What do you want us to do from here?”

Commission chairman Woody White responded, “We’re not prepared to make a decision today if that’s what you’re asking.”

White said the consensus is a hope to have the bond referendum on the 2014 general election ballot and to take into consideration the county’s other debt management obligations “with every reason to believe that it’s going to be agreeable to your board.”

Board of education member Ed Higgins said no more than four to six months before the election would be sufficient time to make decisions about a figure for the bond total and timeline.

“I think people are very responsive to seeing what projects are going to be done,” Higgins said.

Board of education chairman Don Hayes said various times and amounts have been discussed between the chairs of both boards. He reiterated how all of the project items work together.

“The situation in Wrightsville Beach, for example, where we’re using the church, it’s going to eliminate that,” Hayes said.

Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley referenced the total amount of $242 million in current costs throughout the meeting for all 25 items on the 2010-11 Facility Needs Survey. School board members have rearranged items on the bond referendum priority list since January 2013. Wrightsville Beach School renovations and additions, totaling $6.25 million, have remained No. 14.

School administration and county staff met on June 3 to arrive at a $160 million figure, which would end with the Wrightsville Beach School renovations. School board members initially self-imposed a lesser amount of $150 million limit for the referendum during a retreat.

Current enrollment in the 42 New Hanover County Schools facilities is 26,247, the highest it has ever been and 3,548 students over capacity.

There are 80 trailers spread throughout the schools in the county, with nine at Wrightsville Beach School. A bond referendum would help reduce the amount of trailers, but not eliminate them.


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