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Superintendent sets record straight

WINDSOR – It was a matter of setting the record straight.

Speaking before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners during their public input period at the start of Monday night’s meeting, Bertie Schools Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart commended the Board for their commitment of $6 million as the county moves forward to construct an $18.5 million central middle school.

The superintendent’s message this time around was in stark contrast of her remarks during an Oct. 24 meeting of the Commissioners where the Board conducted a public hearing prior to approving the $6 million loan.

In her comments at the October meeting, Dr. Collins-Hart said the new educational facility was a “stripped down school,” making reference to several items cut from the original blueprints in order for the total cost to come in at the budgeted $18.5 million.

She added that the school would be inadequate to meet the educational needs of the children.

On Monday, Dr. Collins-Hart said some may have taken her comments to mean that she was “viewing the glass as half empty rather than more than half full.”

“I believe that may have been the case, or the perception of the case, in my comments to the Commissioners at a recent meeting where the public hearing for the middle school was held,” she said. “Do allow me to set the record straight.”

The Superintendent continued, “As a citizen, taxpayer, educator and advocate for children, especially children in Bertie County, I want to thank you (commissioners) and publicly commend you for the $18.5 million commitment to the middle school project. I do realize that $18.5 million is a great deal of money and represents a huge financial commitment, so please know that I do not take that lightly.”

In addition to the $6 million loan approved by the Commissioners, other funds for the $18.5 million project are coming from the 1996 State School Bond money ($10.23 million), $1.23 million in state ADM funds and $1.21 million in capital reserve funds. The Commissioners approved the transfer of these funds to the middle school project.

Dr. Collins-Hart went on to explain the intention of her communication with the Commissioners at the October public hearing. She admitted her frustration that the $18.5 million allocated a year ago to build a modest, but adequate, middle school is now much less in value due to spikes in construction costs.

“What we had just a year ago will purchase much less as we begin to actually build the school,” she noted.

Specifically speaking, Dr. Collins-Hart said the Bertie Board of Education had to trim $750,000 in order to stay within the $18.5 million budget.

“This put the school system in a position of having to trim items that, if eliminated, will significantly limit what we are able to offer our students,” she said. “We did not trim frills, we trimmed necessities.”

She added that all of the items which fell by the wayside are still needed in order to offer an adequate middle school.

“Let me reiterate; it is not the County Commissioners’ fault nor is it the school system’s fault, but we need the Commissioners to help the school system make up the difference,” she stressed.

Dr. Collins-Hart urged the Board of Commissioners and the Bertie Board of Education to work together in an effort to find additional funding, both of a short-term and long-term nature.

“I believe the value-engineering process currently in process by our contractors and architect holds some promise in generating funds that can be used to add back some of the items removed from the middle school project,” she said. “I am encouraged to learn that the Commissioners have been clear that any funds generated through that process will be used to put back into the middle school. Thank you for that.”

She continued, “However, I do believe that even with that process, there will still be a need to enter into some dialogue (with the Commissioners) about how we can plan to reinstate some of the components of the middle school.”

Even if deficits remain following the value-engineering process, Dr. Collins-Hart said it was her hope that “the communication can remain open and collaborative between the two boards regarding both short term and long term needs.”

She formally invited the Commissioners and the public to attend a groundbreaking for the middle school, an event set for 2 p.m. on Dec. 5. The new middle school, located on US 13 near Bertie High School, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007.