At its regular meeting Monday, the Transylvania County Board of Education expressed even more growing frustration regarding the $ 68 million construction bond project and perceived stalling from the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners.
Toward the end of the meeting as the fiscal year 2022 budget was being discussed, Board Chair Tawny McCoy read aloud a letter sent to the Commissioners from the Board for the purpose of putting it on public record.
While beginning the letter thanking the commissioners for their support and showing appreciation for their many duties, McCoy laid out concerns that their duties as elected by county residents include handling items such as teacher and nurse salary increases, insurance coverages, improved security such as facial recognition software based cameras, school supplies such as English language arts textbooks, new roofing for both Rosman and Brevard high schools and improved piping at Pisgah Forest Elementary School, among others.
Frustration continues to mount because according to McCoy items such as these are out of the Board’s hands to regulate and thus fall on the Commissioners.
McCoy raised concerns in her letter that the longer these costs and capital needs remain unapproved and stalled the more expensive they will become over time.
She also expressed frustration that there was not any officially stated reason as to why these improvements to the schools remain unresolved. “No explanation was provided as to why these particular items were removed from the request … and we request that they review the request and at a minimum fully fund the items included in the local current expense requests that are out of our control and capital requests including the capital items removed, ”she said.
Board Member Kimsey Jackson said his biggest concern is that cuts and changes have been made to school budgets without any discussion between the two local boards.
“That frankly is inappropriate and not professional. Any responsible manager should, if they’re going to make cuts, sit down with the people and talk about it and get input on it, ”he said. “It’s astounding to me that the roofs of Rosman Middle School and Rosman High School have been cut. I’ve had a couple of teachers tell me there are times that water runs down the hall. ”
Jackson added that while he does not know the exact solution to fix everything communication and cooperation between the Board of Education and the County Commissioners is critical.
He suggested that at the very least School Superintendent Jeff McDaris and Chief Finance Officer Gabi Frost should meet with Transylvania County Manager Jamie Laughter to address these concerns.
Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi agreed with Jackson that the ongoing frustration needs to be resolved.
“It also continues to really grate me that for the past few years the only capital funding we have gotten from the County Commissioners is the sales tax money… that they are required to transmit to us, I think the citizens of Transylvania County would be surprised to find that there is no county funding coming for capital repairs and improvements to the school other than what they are required to share with us in sales tax, ”Kiviniemi said.
He also stated that it was “galling” that the Commissioners are “sitting” on an $ 11 million capital reserve for school projects from the 10.5 cent tax increase. “They have not issued the bonds they have not even allowed us to move forward with the projects by approving a construction manager at risk and architect contracts to revise the projects to come in budget,” he added.
Board Member Marty Griffin echoed Jackson’s comments about the need for communication between the two bodies and even stated that Board Chair McCoy has tried on several occasions to call for a joint meeting to no avail. “When do we get the communication started?” he asked.
Board Member Courtney Domokur stated that a joint meeting did happen in January, to which Kiviniemi jokingly responded “Yes, and its produced such positive results” before Griffin clarified that joint meeting was not about the budget.
Members of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners received McCoy’s letter shortly before their Monday night workshop began and said they were surprised by its contents.
In response to the letter, County Manager Jaime Laughter said, “In these situations you approve budgets and you approve a level of funding, however there is no mechanism for review midyear to see how funds are being used or to determine what needs are. Ultimately the prioritization for those funds once they are approved is put back into the lap of the boards that govern those agencies. How they prioritize and how they spend their funding is really up to those agencies. Each of them is able to move their funding streams and prioritize based on the needs that they see at the moment. ”
County Commissioner David Guice was more direct in his response.
“You can not send letters in here at the last minute and expect to get something and respond positively to it,” Guice said. “There’s got to be that kind of dialogue and it can not be the finger pointing or the yelling at each other. We’re saying that education in our community is important to us and we want to place it as a priority. That’s not to say that everybody gets everything they want. ”
Back at the school board meeting, Griffin asked if there was any further update specifically regarding the construction bond project which has still not been able to move forward despite being approved months ago. Chair McCoy said that there were no updates.
Kiviniemi added, “And in response to Marty’s question I will point out that it has now been 20 weeks since we sent the contracts to the commissioners for approval … a full four months since that was done.”
Domokur asked what the timeline would be moving forward regarding the project. McCoy responded, “The whole timeline will shift after we get some answers.”
Kiviniemi said if the Commissioners will not move forward to approve the capital needs and other items, then the Board themselves may need to adjust accordingly.