LUMBERTON — Construction of a new central office for the Public Schools of Robeson County in a soybean field off N.C. 711 was pushed forward Tuesday.
The Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education approved giving site concept plans presented by Hugh McIlwain, a school district internal auditor, to the board’s Construction Committee. It will be up to the committee’s members to come back to the full board with plans on the size and shape of the central office building so the board can present the plans to agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, providing funding for the building’s construction. The district’s central office building beside Interstate 95 was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.
“The longer we take, the longer we are going to be without a building,” board member Loistine DeFreece said.
The board is looking to build on a field off N.C. 711 near Deep Branch Road. The land is “next to and behind” the N.C. Department of Transportation office on N.C. 711, McIlwain said.
The option to buy the land expires Oct. 25.
The land already has passed environmental and soil tests, said Grady Hunt, the school district’s attorney, and has been deemed suitable for a central office building.
The site also has been deemed suitable for the eventual construction of all the district’s essential operations, such as a warehouse, bus garage and maintenance shed.
“We can’t do this all at once,” Superintendent Shanita Wooten said.
DeFreece stressed that the board needs to present FEMA with a detailed central office construction plan before the funding window closes.
“That’s exactly right,” board member Craig Lowry said. “They wanted to see a building.”
In another land issue, the board approved getting a 1.3 acre tract of land surveyed to proceed with selling it to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The land currently is being rented by UNCP and used as a parking lot. The university wants to buy the property to re-establish a main entrance to West Hall.
Another fiscal matter approved by the school board is allowing schools to keep the money raised by renting out space, such as gymnasiums, for non-school activities. The rental fees had been going to the district.
Erica Setzer, district finance officer, told board members the money has been sitting unused in a district account. She recommended sending it back to the schools because administrators there know best how to use the money to pay for costs, such as cleanup and security, incurred when renting out space.
The board also heard from Eric Hall, superintendent of the state’s new Innovative School District, a new program that will pick two schools in the state that will be managed by a private entity. Southside Ashpole Elementary is one of four finalists.
Hall told the board that Southside Ashpole Elementary School made the final list because it met all the low-performance criteria for inclusion.
Board member John Campbell told Hall disruption and the uncertainty caused by discussion of the Innovative School District are not needed in a county still recovering from Hurricane Matthew.
“Last year we had Matthew,” Campbell said. “This year we have you disrupting our education process. We’re still struggling to recover and you come along.”
Lowry told Hall he has concerns because the program is similar to ones that failed in two other states. He also talked about how teachers at selected schools who are not hired by the management organization could have their reputations ruined.
“And that’s something they will have to live with the rest of their lives,” Lowry said.
That sentiment was echoed by board Vice Chairman Brian Freeman, who said it is not fair to judge a teacher during an interview based on scores from one test, such as the end-of-grade test.
If Southside is selected, the existing staff would have to reapply for positions.
Board member Dwayne Smith issued what sounded like a warning.
“Brenda (Fairley-Ferebee) and I, we can fight. We can disagree. We can talk trash,” Smith said. “But you can’t.”
A meeting to discuss Southside Ashpole’s possible selection and to get input from parents has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the school.
In other business, board members:
— Approved moving forward with the Student Success Advocates program and hiring as many as 10 people to work with the students in the program. Federal money would be used to fund the program.
— Honored Andre Patterson, a bus driver at Red Springs High School, as bus driver of the month, William Troy, head custodian at W.H. Knuckles Elementary, as classified employee of the month, and Holly Clegg, media coordinator at Janie C. Hargrave Elementary, as certified employee of the month.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.