LUMBERTON — With the fate of three empty schools yet to be determined, the Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County voted Tuesday to surplus a school that was closed about 25 years ago.
Also up for grabs are Green Grove and R.B. Dean elementary schools, which were closed and consolidated before the 2019-20 school year, and West Lumberton Elementary School, which was destroyed by flooding from Hurricane Matthew almost four years ago.
The school board declared the old Allenton School surplus property. It will be offered to the Robeson County Board of Commissioners at market value, and will return to school system if the county declines it, school board attorney Grady Hunt said.
Board member Steve Martin pointed out there is a hitch. The county has made substantial improvements to the property, including baseball fields, a concession stand and a community building.
“The school has been vacant for 25 years, and we need to move forward and take the next step,” Martin said of the 10-acre site. “The commissioners act like they already own it.”
When the gym burned several years ago, the county collected insurance money, Martin said.
“I was told by a commissioner they are not going to pay,” Martin said. “We may inherit a nice building.”
Ownership of the property appears to be a mystery, and the board attorney said, “You declare it surplus, and we’ll get tothe bottom of it.”
Superintendent Shanita Wooten requested that the fate of Green Grove and R.B. Dean be discussed further in a committee meeting next week.
West Lumberton will have to wait on the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the property can be disposed of.
The Public Schools of Robeson County is expecting as much as $90 million from FEMA to replace the school and the central office, which also was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, Finance Director Erica Setzer said.
No timeline was offered for FEMA to close the book on Hurricane Matthew and the Public Schools of Robeson County.
In a lengthy discussion on the employment of retired teachers, the school board confirmed its old policy and rejected a program enacted by the General Assembly in 2019.
Senate Bill 399 proposed that North Carolina school districts hire retired teachers while allowing them to continue collecting their pensions. The school districts would pay health insurance and the compensation would be below beginning teacher pay, saving the state money on both issues.
An Internal Revenue Service question arose about the new program, and school districts across the state have backed away from it, Assistant Superintendent Melissa Thompson said.
The county district’s former policy allowed retired teachers to collect their pension, and the state paid the health insurance. Retired teachers receive an hourly wage equal to their highest pay grade at retirement, but they may only work 30 hours a week.
“We opted out until the IRS settled the issue,” Setzer said. “It could result in penalties for the school district or the teachers.”
School officials could not say how many retired teachers are currently on the payroll.
“We need to put it out there that retirees are welcome,” board member Craig Lowry said.
In other business, the board heard that the school child nutrition program received an exemplary audit from the state.
“This is really good news,” Assistant Superintendent Karen Brooks-Floyd said. “They said we were a model program, best in the state.”
Grady Hunt, the attorney for the Public Schools of Robeson County, speaks with board member Dwayne Smith on Tuesday. The board talked about what to do with four abandoned schools.