Ward: Veto ‘put us in limbo’

Published 11:16 am Monday, July 28, 2014

Ward-QuoteWith the start of school for Carter County students just two weeks away, the mayoral veto of the county’s budget is delaying preparations for opening day, according to Director of Schools Kevin Ward.
“Basically what it has done is put us in limbo as far as the start of the new school year,” Ward said, saying that purchasing has been frozen until a budget is approved.
The freeze on purchasing orders could affect maintenance and building improvement projects that are under way in preparation to open the doors to students on Aug. 11.
“Right now is a real busy time for the bus garage,” Ward said, adding the buses have to be maintained and inspected by state standards. “Most of the buses are up and ready,” he said, but added that if maintenance personnel find parts that must be repaired or replaced, those operations could be delayed.
Ward said anything that requires the school system to obtain a purchase order is currently on hold until a budget is approved.
County Mayor Humphrey cited several reasons for the veto, among them concerns regarding a proposed new middle school in the Stoney Creek community. The vetoed budget contained 10 cents on the tax rate earmarked to allow the school system to obtain architect’s plans for the building and to begin the bidding process.
Saying although he supports the school system, Humphrey said he felt there are too many unanswered questions – and a lack of communication from the school system – for the county to proceed with funding for a new school.
He also said the schools have not informed the county about additional costs – such as utilities, maintenance or any additional personnel – the new school would require. He added that he felt the project was being “rushed” by the school system.
Ward said he takes issue with some of those comments.
“We have actually been talking about this for about a year, but we gained momentum in February in our work with (the architect),” Ward said. He added he has been working with the Education Committee and the Budget Committee for the past few months regarding the school project, including many Budget Committee meetings where the project was discussed in length.
He also said some of the questions being asked by the mayor – such as what the fixed cost of the project will be – do not have answers at this time, and those answers will not be available until the system obtains plans from the architect for the project.
“It doesn’t mean we haven’t been communicating,” Ward said. “There has been a lot of communication with the commission. We were in a very in-depth dialogue with the Budget Committee.”
“If the mayor had been in attendance at those budget meetings, he would have seen that,” he added.
Ward also addressed Humphrey’s comments that the school system should be developing “a comprehensive plan” to address the needs of the existing school facilities before beginning the process of building a new school.
“Me, personally, I don’t see that it’s the mayor’s job to tell the schools and the school board how to do their jobs,” Ward said.
Ward pointed out that three studies have been done since 2012 regarding the needs of the current facilities and the system as a whole.
“If he has a recommendation, it is something that should be done as a collaborative effort rather than going through the newspaper and making it political,” Ward said. “I think this is political when it comes right down to it.”

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