LAURINBURG — A state committee unanimously approved a plan by Scotland County Schools to finance the second phase of a $14.8 million consolidation project.
But after an appeal submitted by Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block, the Local Government Commission put the decision on hold until next month.
In a letter to State Treasurer Dale Folwell appealing the initial decision, the mayor said a majority of county residents have expressed their opposition to the project for the last two years. He said at least 750 people have signed the appeal letter.
“Citizens are against the cost of this project because it has no clear benefit to students, parents, teachers or taxpayers,” Block said in a letter to State Treasurer Dale Folwell appealing the initial decision. “The School Board, the Superintendent and the County Commissioners have been very misleading in ‘selling’ this to the public. They have emphasized that ‘getting rid of costly to maintain older schools’ is going to lead to savings.”
School officials expect the full LGC board to approve the request, but said the delay could alter the construction timeline for the additions to Sycamore Lane and Laurel Hill Elementary schools.
Scotland board Chairman Jeff Byrd described Block’s efforts as “shenanigans.”
“People who continue to listen to the lies and shenanigans he keeps saying about the school system is not the truth. If you want to know the truth, come talk to us our doors are always open,” Byrd said. “For him to question anyone’s ethics and why we’re doing this is really starting to irritate this town and it’s not doing us any good.”
Byrd also compared Block to a cult leader.
“I used to wonder how could people follow David Koresh or Jim Jones and drink the Koolaid but unfortunately there are people in this town that are drinking the Koolaid,” Byrd said. “If we’re ever going to be united in this county, y’all gotta quit listening to the man because honest to goodness he’s doing nothing but dividing us up. I’m sick of it.”
Board Attorney Nick Sojka said it is rare that an appeal is filed after the executive committee has unanimously approved a financial proposal. The Local Government Commission’s Executive Committee approved the request on Sept. 12. The full commission will hear consider the issue on Oct. 3.
“In speaking with the county’s bond council, who is very experienced with these kinds of things,” Sojka said. “His comment to me was in 30 years he had never seen an appeal like this. Never the less he expressed great confidence in the soundness of the proposal will carry and does not anticipate any problems with the appeal.”
During the Sept. 12 LGC’s Executive Committee meeting — attended by board member Jamie Sutherland, Superintendent Ron Hargrave and chief finance officer Jay Toland attended — Folwell congratulated the school board and the county for funding the project without a tax increase, something he said is standard procedure.
“I always try to congratulate projects that are being funded without a tax increase (either through valuation or the actual rate),” Folwell said in an e-mail.
Hargrave encouraged the board to remember who school officials are working for.
“At the end of all that you do are approximately 6,000 children who appreciate what you do and there are some great benefits these children are receiving because of decisions your boldness and willingness to be innovative,” Hargrave said. “As superintendent, that makes me proud and I sincerely thank you on behalf of our children.”
Project manager Roger Ammons explained to the board he would be meeting with the contractors on both projects Friday to ensure they could still complete the projects on time.
The contractors, FBI Construction out of Florence, S.C. and WC Construction out of Winston-Salem, asked for up to $20,000 to begin advanced work following the approval of the county’s financing plan by the Local Government Commission’s Executive Committee on Sept. 12.
The money allows the contractors to receive bids from local subcontractors and begin grading the site in order to have the project finished by Aug. 1, 2018.
The public is invited to attend two upcoming meetings the school board and county commissioners will be having later this week.
The Liaison Committee for the school board and the county commissioners will hold their monthly meeting on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the A.B. Gibson Center.
The Scotland County Board of Education will hold its end-of-the-year review on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. in the media center at Scotland High School.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.