Eds note: The following remarks were made by Scotland Commissioner Carol McCall to members of the Local Government Commission on Oct. 3 in Raleigh.
I will begin my remarks addressing the school consolidation project. This project originated in the fall of 2014. The school system had concerns about safety for the children and staff. From this starting point a capacity study was done by the school system at the request of the board of commissioners. It revealed that our primary and middle schools were operating at 30 to 40 percent capacity. Phase one has been completed and the project for your consideration is phase two.
In the last three years there have been multiple joint board meetings, along with a steady flow of communication between the superintendent and the county manager and both finance officers of both the school system and the county. A liaison committee comprised of three members each from the Scotland County Board of Education and the county board of commissioners has worked to educate and inform both their respective boards on the progress on the plan. The commissioners have been actively engaged in this process from the beginning — asking for additional information and financing models. Early on, the board contracted with First Tryon Financial Advisors for objective and outside direction.
I give you this background information to demonstrate the commissioner effort and due diligence to the project. There was no rush to judgment and every vote taken in the process was to move forward in obtaining more information. The final decision was made Aug. 8 when the vote was made following the public hearing. That vote was unanimous. I believe that each commissioner made their decision through their own independent and individual process. Last night at our regular monthly meeting a resolution was adopted supporting the consolidation plan.
Our board is diverse and represents the county in gender, geography, and race.
The commissioners are committed to planning for the present and the future of our citizens. Our school population is declining and our diversity is growing. The consolidation plan creates the best learning environment for our students,. It creates efficiency and eliminates deferred maintenance. As a board we are striving to be proactive in providing an improved quality of life and learning.
The plan created two opportunities for the county. The first provided the means to reduce the debt on our existing water districts which is allowing for cost savings, which is always a good thing. And second, it gives the county ad our citizens an expanded community college. Richmond Community College which serves us will have full campus designation which brings with it more associate degree programs and job training opportunities. The county’s partnership with the colleges is very strong and this expansion will serve citizens well into the future.
The commissioners are fully aware of the high tax rate and high unemployment rate. In our role as elected officials we face the challenge every day. Progress has been made in reducing our tax rate and it has been reduced by a penny for each of the last two years. It is very important to note that this reduction could not have been made without the cooperation of the board of education. The commissioners and board of education have a working relationship that has not always existed. A funding agreement was developed in 2014 that reduces our current expense funding by 2.25 percent through 2017 and an agreement is being drafted that continues this reduction for an additional three years. I believe that this agreement demonstrates both boards recognition of the need to reduce the tax burden on our citizens. Currently our school debt is low and expires in 2020 and the new debt will coincide with this expiration.
Workforce development is a primary component of our ongoing economic development strategic plan. Giving our citizens the education tools needed for success is the goal of the consolidation plan. As a board we believe in supporting our school in building our workforce for the future.
We do not accept that people in poverty lack the skills to be anything other than employable.
And we do not accept that children born into poverty will never escape poverty.
What we do believe is that people have in them the capacity for success.
The commissioners actively strive to create access, opportunities and a path for hope and achievement. This effort means we must embrace change. When you want to push back against poverty, when you want to push back on the lack of education — you must disrupt what others define as the way that is it.
This project puts Scotland County in no greater risk tomorrow than we are in today. The greatest risk is for and community and our county to stand still and accept things the way they are.
Carol McCall serves as chairman of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners