RALEIGH — The North Carolina Local Government Commission gave its approval Tuesday to Scotland County for the financing of a new elementary school.
In a vote that wasn’t unanimous, the LGC ended up approving the limited obligation bond to build the school, with only two LGC members voting no. The Laurinburg Exchange was able to listen to the meeting via conference call.
Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block spoke to the commissioners against building the school. Block told the LGC that he was there on behalf of 1,000 Scotland County residence who were against the consolidation.
“This project is not being done for a compelling reason, as the schools in question are all structurally sound and there are no space and adequacy issues,” Block said. “It is being done as a preference of a few rather than the necessity.”
Block spoke about the limited obligation bond and compared the prices of what it will cost if it was happening in Wake County, where Raleigh is located. He continued to say that his recent election in the primaries where he beat incumbent Guy McCook spoke for the citizens and that the new school should be put on the ballot in November.
He also said the school would, in fact, be losing 50 jobs that are supported by the local funds and Superintendent Ron Hargrave wouldn’t say what the positions would be — leading Block to assume they would be teachers.
County Manager Kevin Patterson spoke to the board in a response to Block and answered questions from the LGC.
“The information we have presented has been a four-year process from start to getting here,” Patterson said. “This is the third and final phase of the school consolidation. We’ve worked diligently with the local government commission, the funding has been analyzed by our financial advisors and all that has been submitted for review by the local government commission.”
One LGC member questioned the vote from the county commissioners, which has been unanimous both times. He also asked about the election cycles — “this has been an issue for two election cycles where county commissioners would have been able to take questions and could have put before the voters in terms of elections?”
After being questioned on if he thought the new school would pass in a vote right then Patterson gave an answer that might have surprised both the LGC and the others in attendance.
“There is not a public outcry for or against this that takes up a large chunk of the 22,000 people we have as registered voters,” Patterson explained. “So honestly, if I had it it would be closer to a flip of a coin, but if we put it to the bond right now, honestly like most referendums we have put up, I would say it would fail.”
The LGC also got to hear from Hargrave and what positions are being lost, as well as why the school wanted to go ahead with consolidation.
“I can share with you through the consolidation process, not one job has been taken away,” Hargrave said. “Jobs that have been eliminated have all come through attrition, where people have retired or have left our district. Because we’re at a declining student population we no longer have a need for those positions.”
Hargrave explained that he didn’t know how many locally paid teachers the district had but it was more than 25. He also assured the board that the current student to teacher ratio was lower than the state required.
As for closing the schools and building a new one, it will lower the average age of schools in Scotland County from 60 to 25.
The elementary school will cost $22.42 million and will combine the students of I. Ellis Johnson Elementary and South Scotland Elementary.
FBI Construction out of Florence, S.C., won the bid to build the 114,000-square-foot school, which is slated to open at the beginning of 2020-2021 school year as construction will take between 16 and 18 months once it begins.