Commissioners hesitant to act on architect changes

Board wants to know full numbers regarding new proposed schools

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The least outspoken member of the Harnett County Board of Commissioners fired her own salvo at the Harnett County Board of Education in the latest back-and-forth war of words between the boards.

District 1 Commissioner Barbara McKoy voiced her displeasure with the way the school board has approached recent funding issues over two newly-approved schools. During the commissioners’ monthly work session, McKoy lashed out at the school board for its decision to change architects from Hite Associates — who presented the original plan to the HCBOC for the new schools — to SFL&A, the firm approved by the school board at its last meeting to move forward with designing the new Erwin and Northwest Harnett Elementary Schools.

She was further upset with HCS, she said, for not sending any accurate information to the commissioners for what cost changes — if any — would be required by the switch.

The board of commissioners are the ruling body in Harnett County. When it comes to finance and funding, the board has the final say.

“I don’t see how we can make a decision on it then. We are in a position where we can build more than one school,” she said. “And I’m not trying to be facetious or whatever, but we’re the governing body in this county and it’s been their way or the highway and that’s just the way it is. And I feel it shows weakness in us when we change what we’ve already bargained for in the budget and in a meeting and all. Then they come and send us another proposal; I’m sorry that’s just the way I feel, that’s it.”

McKoy said the commissioners have made a solid effort to make sure the school board’s needs are met and now she feels as though HCS is trying to place itself above the commissioners.

“We’ve tried our best to accommodate them and work with them,” McKoy said. “And every time we do that, they push us back and say, ‘hey, you’re going to do what we want you to do.’”

McKoy wasn’t the only commissioner with reservations regarding the switch in architects and with the overall tone between the two panels tense, HCBOC Vice Chairman Howard Penny issued his concerns. Penny has not seen any numbers from HCS, he said, and he’s worried the projects will cost more than the $23-plus million the commissioners approved earlier.

“The only question I’ve got about it is the amount of money, does it exceed what we’ve approved?” Penny said. “My understanding is that it’s less... whatever we do we (need) to do based on the accurate numbers. Because (according to them) all we’re doing is changing the architect but we don’t have the numbers. What they’ve told me is it came in over a million dollars less, but I’ve not seen it.”

The University of North Carolina School of Government has encouraged the two boards to walk in each other’s shoes in an attempt at a peace talk that was largely rebuffed by HCS. School board members declined an invitation to the proposed joint session, offering to send Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming in their place.

The commissioners were hesitant to go ahead with the meeting in the absence of the school board.

Chairman Gordon Springle said he saw no reason to continue with plans for the meeting without full attendance by both sides.

“Why?” Springle asked County Manger Paula Stewart. “It’s not for them, it’s for school board members. If they’re not going to come, I see no benefit to having a joint meeting or regular meeting. I’d hate for (the person) to come down and make a presentation to us that we already know.”

Stewart pushed to have the meeting to benefit the superintendent and council and urged the commissioners to approve the meeting in spite of the school board’s reluctance.

“I think it would be helpful for (HCS) and the commissioners,” she said. “I thought it would be helpful if we can work out a schedule and have them come.”

Penny added the program from UNC is a pilot program designed to foster better understanding, not only between the two boards in Harnett County, but to try to establish a program to benefit the remaining counties as well.

“All 100 counties have the same dilemma between school boards of education and boards of commissioners,” he said. “My understanding is this is a pilot project and we were one of the counties chosen to participate. It’s not statewide yet. We are one of the first ones to be involved in it. We were one of the first counties chosen to be participating and I don’t know if the school board and the superintendent knew that.”

Springle noted only school board member Vivian Bennett had indicated she was open and available to attend the meeting. He encouraged her to do so saying it would be a positive.

“If she would come that would help,” he said. “I think whoever comes, it would be a help.”

The meeting was tentatively scheduled for August.

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