Working out the kinks

Published 9:49 am Tuesday, September 9, 2014

WINDSOR – It’s opened with more than a passing grade, but not quite with an A+.

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Elaine White addressed the county’s Board of Commissioners on Monday to inform them on the start of the new school year.  In addition to other changes within the school system, White gave an update on the brand new Bertie High School, which opened its doors to students and staff for the first time in August.

“We’ve had a great beginning,” said White.

The county schools’ theme for the 2014-15 school year is ‘It Takes A Whole Village’, from the old African proverb of, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’

“It is our belief that it takes the schools, families, and communities working together to educate our children so that they will become productive and successful citizens,” White said.

The Superintendent reviewed the Convocation held on Aug. 19 and the activities and presentations that took place at the new school’s gym.  Among the presentations were speeches by parents, Commissioner John Trent, alumni, current and retired educators.

“We had over 500 that attended and the school system was very well supported by the community.” White continued.

Among the honorees and speakers were Old Dominion assistant basketball coach John Richardson, Jr. and current pro basketball player Kent Bazemore, whom White says will be the first of several prominent sports alums to have jersies retired.

The Superintendent’s update included 36 new teachers in Bertie’s schools: 10 in the elementary schools, a dozen at the middle school, and 14 at the high school and alternative school. She says there is also an increase in the county’s graduation rate that exceeds the state level of 83.8 percent.

“For Bertie County I’m very proud to say it is at 84.2,” White declared. “So we have actually exceeded the state this year in graduation, and I think that is an accomplishment for our county. We have specifically targeted graduation rates as one of our goals.  Most of our children are back on the right track and are not needing a minimum-credit diploma, but we are still instituting this year the credit recovery program at our alternative school.”

Though county-wide there are 2, 513 students enrolled in Bertie’s schools, White also spoke to the decline in enrollment that the schools are facing: children moving out of the district, enrollment at private schools and this year, charter schools.  It forced a cut in the school budget.

“We are about 41 students below the actual projection (2, 474); but generally, if it’s under 100 students there’s no cut by the state,” she elaborated.

White says there have also been staff reductions because of a reduction in students as well as a reduction in budget.  She also says the turnover rate (26 percent) will probably remain the same this school year.

“But we do not anticipate any other movement in our district at this time,” she added. “We’re pretty stable; this is good actually for where we’ve been in the past.”

White says a new transportation building has been purchased, is being renovated, and she anticipates occupancy by January in advance of the extreme cold weather.

In her report on the new high school, White said there are some concerns, of which she asked Schools Maintenance Director Matthew Bond to elaborate.

Bond said the 80-to-90 percent humidity level in the building has caused some buckling in the floor of the gymnasium and some of the classroom doors to stick.

“At this time they’re ordering new coils to go into the heating and air system to eliminate the humidity problem we have there,” Bond said. “That’s supposed to be started on the 15th of this month and after they’re installed they told me it will take about ten days for the floor to level out, so we’ll wait to see if that works. If that doesn’t work we’ll have to do something else because the problem will get worse.”

On the issue of sticking doors, Bond said that was a humidity problem as well.  He also mentioned some cafeteria issues (stove main breaker tripping, freezer icing, and the garbage disposal), among others.

“I did meet with Hite (and Associates, the building architects) and the general contractors last week and we went through the building and talked about all the problems and they do have a plan together to start working on some of those things,” Bond said.

Bond said his maintenance staff won’t make repairs because of fear of voiding any warranties, but they will report any problems they find back to the contractors.

“We wanted you to be aware,” said White, “so you can support us as we work with them.”

Commissioner Trent inquired about the condition of the doors because if de-lamination occurs then the doors would lose their fire rating.

“And those doors are about 12-hundred (dollars) a pop,” Trent noted. “Once it starts de-laminating it loses its fire-rating completely; there’s no gluing it back together.”

Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson expressed concerns about the utility cost.  Bond informed him that a complete month of full operation of the building hadn’t taken place yet, but that he anticipated the cost at between 20 and 30 thousand dollars.

“That’s close to double what we’re expecting,” Wesson said, and he asked if the high humidity was a factor.

“In a new building we’re running the boiler as much as we’re running the chillers,” said Bond. “You’re running both to get a comfortable temperature in that building and also to bring the humidity down.”

The maintenance head then said until the humidity reaches a stable level, there will be higher utility expense.

Commissioner Rick Harrell inquired about safety concerns regarding the sticky doors and Bond said the doors are being left open to have full access and to prevent people from being trapped inside in case of a potential catastrophe.

“That’s very concerning to me as well,” said White. “I don’t want children stuck behind doors and cannot get out.  We’ll put something on those doors to make sure they don’t close.”

Harrell also asked about the installation of new coils in the brand-new HVAC system and Bond explained that upon installation, the coils had been reversed, possibly accounting for the temperature and humidity variance.

“You have a heating coil and a cooling coil,” said Bond, “and they put them in exactly the opposite.  They changed them around for the classrooms, but when it came to the gym, the lunchroom, and the auditorium, they didn’t do that.  They have ordered coils to put in there to eliminate that problem.  It’s a fixable solution; but our key thing is making sure once they do get the coils in, the gym floor lays down where it’s supposed to be.”

Bond said he couldn’t predict whether the solutions would restore the floor back to its functioning level.

“Only time will tell,” he mused.

White closed her presentation with a note of optimism.

“If I had to rate how I’m feeling about the school  system at this point,” she enthused, “then I’m at a ‘10’.”