Schools seek more money from county coffers

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Harnett County School Board members once again emphasized their list of building priorities Monday as they prepared to make their final budget presentation to county commissioners.

The school board met for its May meeting prior to a planned joint meeting with the Harnett County Board of Commissioners. State law requires the school board to submit its budget request to commissioners before May 1. School boards do not have taxing authority and depend on county commissioners to fund building projects.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming’s budget request was unanimously approved by board members. The request, once again, asks for approximately $23 million for a new elementary school in Erwin.

Board members said they would rather spend an additional $2 million to make the school large enough for approximately 800 students which is larger than the school’s current enrollment of 289 students.

The new school would also include students who attend Gentry Primary School in Erwin. Erwin has 289 students and Gentry Primary has 272 students enrolled, according to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction statistics. That brings the total between the two schools to 561.

School board member Bill Morris represents the Erwin area. He noted transportation improvements to N.C. 55 between Erwin and Angier that is expected to increase the population in the area and he would like to see the new Erwin school built to accommodate the growth.

“The bottom line is we have to decide whether to go with what we have now or put in some room for a little growth,” Morris said.

The budget request also outlines other spending priorities for the county. The second priority item is a new elementary school for the northwestern part of the county, a project that will cost an estimated $27.6 million. The schools are hoping for $2.7 million for a third priority, a new early college facility on the campus of the old Benhaven Elementary School.

Currently, students who want to attend early college must commute to Dunn where the only similar facility is located.

The early college program gives students the opportunity to complete some college work in conjunction with their work to complete high school graduation requirements.

“It would be good if we could have an early college on both sides of the county,” Fleming said.

The next priority building project, coming with a proposed price tag of $6.415 million, is a new transportation facility. The building would replace the current bus garage located on Main Street in Lillington. According to Fleming, the facility is outdated and in need of improvements. The proposed building would include a 14-bay garage and a parking lot to accommodate up to 300 buses, most likely at a different location.

The school board is proposing major renovation work at Highland Elementary School to make the school larger and money to repair and expand aging facilities at Johnsonville and South Harnett Elementary schools.

The work on all the facilities would cost approximately $24.45 million.

Fleming also would like to see $3 million in the budget for the purchase of land for a new South Harnett Middle School.

The proposed facility would be located south of Lillington and would relieve overcrowding at Harnett Central Middle School which is one of the most heavily populated schools in the county. In the past, the school system has looked at the possibility of obtaining land somewhere between N.C. 210 and U.S. 401 where the two roads run parallel in the southern part of the county.

The purchased land could possibly provide enough land for a new South Harnett High School.

The proposed budget was scheduled to be presented to commissioners following the school board meeting.

Fleming said his official budget request will be delivered to Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart this week, following Monday’s joint meeting of the two boards.

In other action, Angier area citizens Everette Blake III spoke to the board about changing traffic patterns around Harnett Central Middle School. He asked the board to consider outlawing left turns out of the school driveway.

“That would make things safer for our students there,” Blake said.

The traffic matter will be referred to the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office, which stations a resource officer near the school each school day. Board member Eddie Jaggers also suggested making the North Carolina Highway Patrol aware of the situation.

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