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Bertie lobbies for unused funds

WINDSOR – Plans are proceeding for renovations and additions to Bertie High School.

While they move forward, however, the school district is lobbying the North Carolina Department of Instruction (DPI) to offer assistance now.

Bertie Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chip Zullinger said Wednesday morning that he was in Raleigh visiting with DPI officials and local legislators, encouraging them to release additional Qualified School Construction Bond (QSC) loan funding during the current fiscal year.

On Monday evening, Dr. Zullinger was directed by the Bertie County Board of Education to move forward with the lobbying efforts. That came after the board was told more than half of the school districts in North Carolina did not request the QSC funding set aside for their systems.

“We have a legitimate argument that we need the money now,” Dr. Zullinger told the board. “If we can get going on construction now, we can take advantage of construction costs being down by 35 percent that may not be there in a year.

“We need to work to get the state to see that and distribute the funding so that we can see if we can get something done here,” he added.

As part of the federal stimulus package, North Carolina school districts were given the opportunity to borrow money at zero percent interest through QSC. Bertie County Schools is eligible to borrow $1.23 million, which they plan to use toward new construction at Bertie High School.

The district hoped DPI would redistribute the available loan funds based on need and allow the county to build a projected $2.8 million new gym. According to information received thus far by the school district, the state intends to hold the unused funds for a year before releasing them again.

Using the loan funding now is important because of the savings it could render for the Bertie County taxpayers, according to Dr. Zullinger.

“With the savings on borrowing money at zero percent interest and a cost savings of 35 percent on construction, we are looking at saving roughly 50 percent on this project,” Dr. Zullinger told school board members. “This is a rare window of opportunity.”

Board member Alton H. Parker asked why some of the districts chose not to use the money and was told there were a variety of reasons. They included some of them not wanting to go through the process and some simply not needing the construction funds at this time.

“When will we know the when, where and how of this money,” Board Chair Emma H. Johnson asked, referring to the money left over by other districts.

“We know DPI is saying right now it will be redistributed next year,” said Richard Andrews, an architect with SmithSinnett, who is handling the renovation project for Bertie County Schools. “Whether or not you can lobby them to make changes to that I don’t know.”

Dr. Zullinger asked the board’s direction on lobbying to have the rest of the funds released, preferably based on need and was told to proceed. The four board members in attendance agreed that it would be better to ask for the funding now. Board member Pamela Chamblee was absent from the meeting.