LEE SCHOOL BOARD: Funding constraints mean East Lee project postponed

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

East Lee Middle School has relied on the same heating and air conditioning system for the last 35 years, and although school board members say they want to replace it, they also delayed those efforts somewhat on Tuesday.

A system large enough to heat and cool a school the size of East Lee would cost close to $1.3 million, the Lee County Board of Education estimates. About $700,000 in N.C. Education Lottery funds reportedly is available to put toward the project, but funds are tight elsewhere with cuts coming from the federal, state and local levels.

So the board's Facilities and Technology Committee, which covers such projects, proposed asking the Lee County Board of Commissioners to help fund the remainder.

However, that proposal was voted down by the board during Tuesday's school board meeting. Paying for the project will now have to be completed over two years using the lottery funds, meaning the installation will also move more slowly, school board Chairman Lynn Smith said.

Smith, who voted against making the request, said Thursday he believes the renovations are important and that they will save the district a lot of money in regular bills once they happen due to the lower energy usage of new technologies. But it just wasn't appropriate to ask the county for the help, he said.

"I think the overriding discussion was that there was no question it would be a legitimate request," Smith said. "We're trying to repair a 35-year-old heating and air system. ... However, since we're between budgets, it would have to be an emergency request, and this is not an emergency. Tomorrow it might be, but it's not an emergency today. And we understand the budget restraints to the county this year."

Superintendent Andy Bryan said Thursday he hasn't heard of any complaints from staff, students or parents regarding the school's decades-old system. He echoed Smith's point that the system is simply well overdue for a renewal.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, Bryan reported that the start of school has been smooth so far, and that his transition plan is coming along as planned. He recently also finished up his series of community meetings held at the district's elementary schools, and he said he's also still holding more focused meetings with staff and community groups.

"I got a lot of great feedback from the community on how we're doing as a school district — and it's important to know where people want to go," Bryan said.

The board also:

* Heard from Lee County Y director Zac West about the Y Learning Program at B.T. Bullock Elementary School.

* Went over the agenda for its annual retreat, to be held Oct. 11 and 12.

* Changed the date of Bryan's formal annual review from November to April so that it better coincides with his contract renewal date in July. He will also have an informal review in December.

* Heard an update from administrators about Common Core testing, the results of which should be released in November.

* Approved use of a combination of federal, state and local funding to start a program for beginning teachers to receive advice and counsel from more experienced teachers in their field who are also trained mentors. The Beginning Teacher Support Program will consist of a three-year induction period, mentoring and training, an annual professional development plan and more.

* Approved a policy that teachers who have been placed on a Mandatory Improvement Plan — which their principal can put them on if they demonstrate a lack of proficiency and/or progress toward proficiency — may request to have their teaching monitored by a "qualified observer" in the area or areas of concern. The board also compiled a list of qualified observers employed locally.