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News from the Board -- January 23, 2019

In its special workshop meeting on January 23, 2019, the Onslow County Board of Education discussed three topics: the Eastern North Carolina Regional Skills Center, hurricane recovery updates and future budget planning.  

Interim Superintendent Ron Singletary began the discussion on the Skills Center with the announcement that the facility would not be open for students this school year as previously anticipated. This decision, he said, is due to complicating factors, including Hurricane Florence, which presented a number of delays and challenges for the project. Dr. Singletary said that the facility could be partially open by mid-March, and that the project is expected to be completed by April. An April completion date, he said, would allow enough time for the building to be equipped and prepared for student occupancy by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year in August.  

A primary concern with the Skills Center that the Board expressed is how the upstairs space in the facility will be outfitted for future use at the completion of the project.

Currently, there are no set plans for the upstairs space, and some Board members expressed that they would like to see the space, at a minimum, outfitted with the infrastructure required to make future renovations easier, whether that space be used for classrooms, offices, etc. The Board unanimously agreed to ask staff to move forward with researching the potential uses of the upstairs space and the logistics and requirements for preparing the space for future use.  

Next, Chief of Operations Steve Myers presented the Board with an update on the district’s hurricane recovery efforts. Mr. Myers explained to the Board that after further assessment, the total estimated cost of hurricane recovery in the district has been updated to $40-$50 million, rather than the up-to-$125 million figure previously estimated. Right now, he said, the district is doing repairs as allowed by funding coming in from the state, the insurance company and other sources of revenue. He said that, on average, 2-3 schools are being worked on per week and that repairs are prioritized by need. Roofs are of highest concern, followed by instructional spaces and gyms. He also said some projects will be delayed until the summer, when they will be less disruptive for students.   

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Hollamon gave the Board an update on how funding for hurricane repairs is coming along. Mr. Hollamon said that so far, the district has received $14.5 million in state grants and $8.8 million from the insurance company, which is the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. So far, he said, the district has paid out $28.4 million toward hurricane repairs. Mr. Hollamon said that more payments are expected to come in from both the state and the insurance company.  

Finally, in preparation for its upcoming meeting with the Onslow County Board of Commissioners, the Board discussed how to move forward with future budget planning after the dissolution of the local funding formula.  

Mr. Hollamon, in his presentation to the Board, expressed his opinion that the district needs a framework for planning future budgets now that the county’s funding formula is no longer in use. He said that the number of students and a figure called “per pupil appropriation,” or the amount of money the district spends per student enrolled, drive funding formulas and budgets. He said that the district’s per pupil spending has always been below the state average, but that with the funding formula, the district’s spending began to get closer and closer to the state average.  

Mr. Hollamon and Mr. Myers also discussed the Capital Improvement Program, which plans out the repairs and replacements the district’s facilities will need over a 5-10 year period. That program is funded by the Capital Outlay fund from the county government. For the past several years, the county has given the district $3 million a year to fund needed repairs and upgrades. Mr. Myers said that to keep up with needed repairs, the district would need an average of $8.3 million for the next 5 years. He expressed how it is difficult to keep up with the necessary repairs to roofs, parking lots and other building features without the proper funding.  

Mr. Hollamon also presented calculations that showed that between the district’s increase in square footage to maintain and changes in the consumer price index since 2003, when the $3 million allotment began, that in order to maintain the same level of funding for capital improvement, the district would need to receive $5.4 million annually.  

Following Mr. Myers’ and Mr. Hollamon’s presentations, Board members discussed how to best approach budgeting conversations with the Board of Commissioners to find a solution that both entities are comfortable with. Staff members and Board members expressed that while the district needs to work with the county to find mutually-beneficial funding solutions, that providing opportunities for students remains the district’s number one priority. At the end of the conversation, Board Chair Pam Thomas said that Board members would bring with them to the meeting with the commissioners, concerns about the under-funded Capital Improvement Program and ideas on new funding formulas that would work for both the county and the school district.