Wake commissioners question schools' spending plan

County commissioners want more information about single-sex schools

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

— Wake County commissioners said they’ll need more details before approving proposals to spend $4.5 million on real estate and renovation for the county schools’ single-sex academies.

A proposal from the school system to buy the former YWCA property on Hargett Street for $1.1 million met with similar questions at Monday’s board meeting.

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities for Wake schools, presented three items already approved by the school board:

• The use of $1.657 million in bond funding to renovate the former Thompson School as the site of the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, which is operating this year on a temporary campus in North Raleigh.

• The use of $2.9 million in bond funding to renovate buildings at the Gov. Morehead School for use by the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, as well as approval of a pending lease. The lease must be approved by the Council of State because the Morehead campus is state-owned.

• The purchase out of bankruptcy of the former YWCA building, on a three-acre plot near Moore Square, for a use not yet specified, for $1.1 million. Among the possibilities for the property is an expansion of the Young Men’s Leadership Academy. There are several other options, including tearing the current building down and building another building there, Desormeaux said.

After the school board fired Superintendent Tony Tata on Sept. 25, Board of Commissioners chairman Paul Coble demanded the school board pass a resolution committing to housing the boys’ school at the Thompson School for at least seven years.

Coble told Desormeaux that the system should have brought a more complete proposal. Members questioned the YWCA’s bankruptcy filing, which appeared to show the property was owned outright by the organization, against $455,695 in unsecured liabilities.

“If we pay the money for the land, there’s $600,000 going somewhere,” member Tony Gurley said.

Also, members Gurley and Joe Bryan pointed out that buying the former YWCA building had never appeared on the system’s previous lists of priorities for new schools. The lack of an approved school assignment plan beyond the current school year also made the purchase iffy, they said.

“You’re asking us to pay more money than I think this building is worth, you don’t have any idea what’s going into it and it’s not on your list of priorities,” Coble said of the YWCA purchase. “A little more clarification would be helpful.”

In response to those comments, all by Republican members, Democrat Erv Portman spoke in favor of moving forward even if some details remained unclear. The single-sex academies in particular have created enthusiasm among parents and students, he said.

“You’ve got two programs the community’s excited about,” Portman said.

Staff writer Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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