The Scotland County Board of Education will request $515,000 from the county for capital projects in the 2013-2014 school year.
School finance officer Jay Toland briefed the board on the 2013-2014 capital outlay budget, which is proposed at $1.2 million. The budget includes $300,000 in debt repayment for Wagram Primary classrooms, $327,000 for roof replacements at Wagram Primary and Pate Gardner Elementary, and $317,500 to add security connecting walls at North Laurinburg Elementary, Shaw Academy, and Scotland High School.
Board member Jamie Sutherland proposed the idea of expanding the security connector project to two years, which would bring the board’s request of the county to about $365,000. About $70,000 has been earmarked separately to construct security connectors at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School.
“I see no issues in presenting this as a two-year deal to the county,” said Superintendent Rick Stout, adding that he continues to consider the project a necessary measure for school safety.
Board member Paul Rush expressed opposition to any delay in constructing the walls, which will close the spaces between existing school buildings.
“I don’t think this board wants to go on record saying that this is a necessary project, but we don’t think we have to do it for two years,” Rush said. “It just doesn’t add up. If it’s needed, it’s needed now. What we need is to figure out a creative way to finance it, and that’s where we come into partnership with the county.”
Rush also argued that, if the board wishes to present the connectors as an urgent issue, they should be prioritized above the roof replacements and other major projects. The board briefly discussed the possibility of funding the walls through private grants before approving the capital outlay budget as presented.
“I think from what both Paul and Jamie both are saying, from our history, we just need a backup plan,” said board member Darrel Gibson. “And I say history with the county - they’re probably going to shoot it down, so we need a plan if it’s that important to us.”
The school board is expected to meet with the county Board of Commissioners on Friday to discuss the budget request.
In his report, Stout said that H.B. 935, which would cut funding for pre-kindergarten programs and restrict student eligibility for them, will not be passed before next year. He also said that the schools expect to get a firmer idea of their level of state funding for the 2013-2014 school year with the passing of a state budget in the coming weeks.
“We will hopefully get a budget from the legislation in the next week or two,” Stout said. “We thought we were going to have it about a week ago; it’s hard to plan sometimes because the later it gets, the more crunch time we have with personnel and making those types of decisions.”
In other business, the board heard a presentation from the staff of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) a nationwide, grand-funded program currently at work at the middle and high school levels in Scotland County.
“We are here to create a college-going culture,” said Brittany Jones, GEAR UP high school student coordinator. “Some of our goals and objectives are to increase graduation rates, decrease dropout rates, and increase family and community members’ knowledge of higher education.”
The program is in its first year in Scotland County’s schools, and will be funded until 2019. GEAR UP currently serves seventh and 12th grade students, with more grades to be added until all middle and high school students are served. Program activities include tutoring and mentoring, financial aid assistance, enrichment programs, family engagement groups, and college visits.