LAURINBURG — Dozens of Scotland County residents filled the seats of the Emergency Management Center for the county commissioners’ public hearing to get residents’ input on the funding of Phase III of the school consolidation, which has been in the works for the past four years.
The money will come through the restricted sales tax funds, education lottery funds, and the savings through consolidation, all of which are exclusive to the schools.
A limited obligation bond was selected by the commissioners to fund the building of the new elementary school, which will combine the students of I. Ellis Johnson Elementary and South Scotland Elementary. Before the commissioners’ meeting, the Board of Education met and unanimously voted to accept the base bid of $22.42 million from FBI Construction out of Florence, S.C., for the 114,000-square-foot school.
There were 12 residents who spoke against the building of the new school, including Laurinburg Mayor and county commissioner candidate Matthew Block, county commissioner candidate Tim Ivy, Board of Education candidate Jacob Pate, and City Councilwoman Mary Evans.
Only two people spoke in favor of the school, including Board of Education Chair Summer Woodside.
Woodside explained how the funding worked for the school and gave a voice to the students of consolidation.
“A seventh-grader at Sycamore Lane told me she loved the new sports that were provided at Spring Hill and her bus time was shorter because there were fewer students on her bus route after consolidation,” Woodside said. “This past year as North Laurinburg students spent some days at Laurel Hill one child shared that he would love to be at a school where he doesn’t have to walk outside when it’s raining to go to lunch.
“Addressing the inequities in our school facilities and improving the safety and diversity of all of our schools is a public act of justice and love for our students and the future of our community,” she added.
Many of those against the school felt like the money could be used for other options, that taxes would go up, that they didn’t think students should be in a bigger school, or simply just wanted the choice to vote on the issue.
“By putting it to a referendum would allow you to peruse a general obligation bond which because its backed by the full faith of the citizens allows you to obtain a lower interest rate,” Block said. “So without distracting us going forward with if your plan is going to save us money or whatever how can you justify committing the taxpayers of this county to a higher cost loan.”
Block has taken to his Facebook page to discuss the consolidation over the past few months and has even tried to force a referendum by a petition in which he had gotten several hundred signatures before being told that, even if it did get the correct amount of names, there would still be no referendum with the limited obligation bond.
“I wish you all would listen to the people,” Evans said. “Look at the impact, what would you lose by having a referendum? If you care anything about us at all have it … You’ve got to listen to the people you’re going to leave us with a big tax bill … I want you to rethink this so I don’t have to rethink it at election time.”
Commissioner John Alford spoke on the issue of why the commissioners went with the limited obligation bond. Alford explained that the federal interest rates are going to jump at least twice before they would be able to get the general obligation bond in, which was one reason they chose not to do it, but also because of taxes.
“We aren’t raising your property taxes to do this $25 million project,” Alford said. “With a general obligation bond, you are giving me the authority to raise your taxes, your property taxes. Regardless of what Matthew Block or anyone else says I don’t want you to give me the taxing authority to raise your taxes by 4 cents to do this project.”
Commissioner Carol McCall said she has done research into what the best environments for children are in schools and stated that the current schools are under par.
“We don’t have city schools, we don’t have county schools, we just have schools,” said McCall. “We’re mandated by the North Carolina Constitution and general statue to provide the best educational environment that we can.”
County Chairman Whit Gibson finished the conversation, saying the commissioners had been voted in by the people to do what they thought was best and four years ago those against consolidation had the least number of votes.
After a 10-minute break, where most of the audience left, commissioners unanimously decided to adopt a resolution to proceed with the issuance of debt through a limited obligation bond.
The construction of the new school will take between 16 and 18 months and the original timeline of the school opening for the 2019-20 school year will be pushed back to 2020-21.
Katelin Gandee can be reached at 910-506-3171 or [email protected]