School board proposes new elementary school

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

The Lee County Board of Education decided Tuesday night to initiate talks with the county about building a new elementary school.

John Bonardi, chairman of the board’s Facilities and Technology Committee, led the discussion about the school, which he said is needed because every elementary school in the county is at or above capacity.A new school for about 650-700 children would cost about $13.5 million, Bonardi said. He suggested the school be built on the old Jonesboro Elementary School campus, located off of Cox Maddox Road near Walmart. To use that location, he said, a dilapidated structure on the site would have to be knocked down, which he said would cost another $350,000.

Board members brought up both class size and safety concerns, with Bonardi saying there’s no way to secure the mobile units given their nature. Mark Akinosho, who also serves on the facilities and technology committee, agreed.

“For the kids that are outside, you can’t do anything,” Akinosho said. “You just have to leave them in the hands of the Lord.”

Board member Tamara Brogan also focused on the growing class sizes at the schools, saying the county appears to be growing steadily.

“You go to the elementary schools and visit, and they’re packed in there,” she said, later adding. “The longer we wait, the more crowded it’s going to be.”

Akinosho also brought up the prospect of turning the school into a second year-round elementary school, noting the interest that led to a community-wide controversy earlier this year when the district proposed making all elementary and middle schools year-round. The proposal, which elicited strong opinions from opponents and supporters alike, was ultimately tabled.

However, discussion of a new school might have been for naught. Any new school would have to receive financial support from the county — support that County Manager John Crumpton said last week will not happen since $14 million will be impossible to come by without raising taxes. But the direction the county wants to go in, he said, is actually toward lower tax rates. Nevertheless, the school board agreed to send a report and funding request to the county in hopes of sparking discussion.

In another funding matter — this one a matter that can be funded through school money — the board also made a last-minute amendment to the agenda to discuss a recommendation for the purchase of $1.68 million in electronic tablets to replace old laptops. The motion had originally been in the consent agenda, which is traditionally voted on without discussion. After discussion, the tablet purchase was approved unanimously.

Board member Cameron Sharpe said he requested the item be discussed since such a large sum of money was at stake. Board member Wendy Carlyle asked if there was any data to support the argument that tech programs, such as providing laptops or tablets to students, have a direct affect on academic growth.

Superintendent Jeff Moss replied that in the world of education, it’s rare that a single program, technology, strategy or teacher can be proven as having made gains that would have been impossible without it. But, he said, there has been a strong correlation between Lee County Schools’ implementation of various technological programs about four years ago and dramatically improved graduation rates and a falling achievement gap. He also noted that mobile devices like tablets are the way of the future, and this will have the added bonus of making students comfortable with such technology before they encounter it on the job.

“I guess I could go on and on,” Moss said. “But our trends are going nowhere but up.”

Sharpe said he was convinced, noting that he has voted in favor of technological advances three times while on the board and had no problem doing so a fourth time.

“I don’t think I’m ready to give up on it yet,” he said.

In other news, the board:

* Approved the first reading of policy changes regarding fundraisers and exemption of final exams.

* Approved the consent agenda.

* Recognized interns from the Sandhills Leadership Academy who have been serving in local schools.

* Saw a Zumba presentation from students at SanLee Middle School, as well as presentations from Broadway Elementary School’s Recycling Club and Green Thumb Club.

* Honored the top three finishers in the recent district spelling bee.

* Heard public comments from Michael Daly, who requested the Tramway Elementary School enrollment lottery be re-done after one student was inadvertently left out (which the district has already declined to do), as well as from Laurie McCauley, who encouraged local schools to participate in “Light it up Blue,” an autism awareness program.

*Heard a report from board Chairman Lynn Smith that he spoke with several legislators about various education issues and was pleased that members of both parties heard him sincerely.

* Recognized Deep River Elementary School for being the clean school of the month.

* Recognized SanLee Middle School counselors for having the classroom webpage of the month.

* Announced the construction of brick lattice walls at East Lee Middle School, West Lee Middle School and Bragg Street Academy in order to keep people from entering the campuses.

* Turned down a request by Sen. Ronald Rabin to get lists of honor roll students to send out congratulations. Moss explained the district currently does not give data like that to outside groups despite frequent requests, and board members unanimously agreed, with some saying it could look political and others saying it could set schools down a slippery slope.