School property sale questioned

Published 8:32 am Monday, April 8, 2013

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners are looking to open a line of dialogue with the Bertie County Board of Education.

On Wednesday, the commissioners discussed reaching out to open a line of dialogue with the school board about some unexpected funding that the school system received and the impending budget.

County Attorney Lloyd Smith referred to a January board discussion about the potential sale of school property. The county has previously turned down offers to purchase J.P. Law and C.G. White elementary schools as school property must be offered the local board of commissioners before it is sold.

“The second part of that sale process is that the proceeds from any sale have to go toward capital outlay or repayment of bonds,” Smith said.

Smith said reading the statute he wasn’t sure if the commissioners had any control over how the school board used the proceeds. He added that some of the schools that were sold were under the first set of QZABs (Qualified Zone Academy Bonds) in 2004.

“They (the earlier QZABs) don’t have an instant repayment requirement, now if they had sold some of the later buildings with QZABs then they have to pay that money down on the county’s debt,” he said.

Smith presented a letter from Bertie County Board of Education Chair Emma Johnson which gave them list of what the school board planned to do with the funds.

Johnson noted in her letter that the reason for the sale of the school property was to “provide critically needed funds for several pressing capital outlay needs.”

“The school system has put off many important capital purchases and repairs over the last several years in an effort to address the numerous budget cuts experienced by school systems, the counties and others across the state,” she wrote.

With the property sold, Johnson listed how the board intended to use the funds to accomplish as much of the following:

Upgrade of the mechanical system controls at West Bertie Elementary, Colerain Elementary and Aulander Elementary (approx. $9,000);

Replace AC unit at West Bertie Elementary (approx. $7,500);

Replace shingled roof at Central Office (approx. $8,000);

Purchase ovens for Colerain Elementary and Aulander Elementary (approx. $9,000 each);

Replace steamer for Aulander Elementary (approx. $14,000);

Install safety upgrades at all schools per safety inspections (approx. $35,000);

Purchase dump truck (approx. $80,000);

Replace the roof at Bertie Early College (approx. $80,000);

Purchase blinds for all schools (approx. $7,000);

Pave the parking lot at Askewville Elementary (approx. $20,000); and

Purchase two activity buses (approx. $85,000 each).

Smith said he no idea what these pieces of property are going to sell for, but as the commissioners go into budget time they should be aware that the school board will be getting the money from the sale proceeds.

During discussion, the commissioners spoke about the local appropriation of $375,000 the county gives to the school system annually for capital outlay.

Noting the expected sale proceeds planning to be used for capital outlay items, the new high school currently under construction and additional unexpected funding that came in for the school system that was used for bonuses, the commissioners also discussed the possibility of changing the number or not increasing funding.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said there needed to be a dialogue between the commissioners and the school board in how to expend the funds.

Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson agreed and said there were some questions on the funding they recently received, whether or not it would continue into the next year. Wesson noted the answer to that would be needed before the commissioners went into budgeting.

After further discussion, the commissioner agreed to draft a letter to the school board in reference to the additional funding the school board received and a sense of how the money was spent.