Joint boards discuss state issues

By Wendy Byerly Wood -

As has been tradition when a fifth Monday occurs in a month, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners and the Yadkin Board of Education held a joint meeting this week to update each other on happenings in the county entities. Among items highlighted is action, or lack thereof, of the state legislature.

“There is no state budget yet, so we are still in limbo on driver’s ed and TAs,” said Superintendent Dr. Todd Martin of the lack of action in Raleigh with potential to greatly affect jobs and learning in school systems statewide.

Martin said the school system has held an “honest conversation” with the teacher assistants in light of the proposed state cut in funding for those positions. “My intention is to keep as many or all employed as we can,” he said. “I do think we are going to see some kind of cut, and it may mean shorter hours for them but keep them employed and with benefits, but it all depends on the amount of cuts.

“I feel bad for them, because they hear this year after year and they never know,” said Martin of the TAs. “They are truly needed in those classrooms. We have four vacant TA positions we haven’t filled. Hopefully by not filling those, it could be helpful in absorbing the cuts, we’ll just have to see.”

As far as cuts in funding for driver’s education, Martin said he is hearing two different scenarios. “I hear there is no way it will be funded, and a representative said last week it would be funded,” he said.

In the meantime, the school system went ahead in getting eligible students through the classroom portion of driver’s ed during the summer, and now the system is working to move ahead and get those students the behind-the-wheel hours needed.

“Thank you to the commissioners and the county manager. You settled on a budget early and that helps us plan accordingly,” Martin said. “We’ve been able to complete some capital projects and we have some others we’re working on.”

Other state-led issues which arose during discussions between the two boards were the school calendar law and sales tax distribution.

As the school calendar law is now written, schools must start classes on the Monday closest to Aug. 26, and they must end on the Friday closest to June 11. In the 2016-17 school year, which educators are planning for now, this is going to cause some headaches as the closest Monday isn’t until Aug. 29, pushing them to meet the end of school year deadline.

“We’ve started working on a weather waiver now because after this past year we believe we qualify. This will allow us to start earlier than Aug. 26,” Martin reported. “We know best locally what our calendar should be for our students.”

County Commission Chairman Kevin Austin noted that all of the systems in the state who don’t qualify for the waiver will be facing the same trouble with the school calendar. “With that late of a start, it is time to get talking again,” he said about a push to change the law.

“It is already in the news in Wake County, and it is a big deal if Wake is talking about it,” Martin said.

Austin said, in other legislative news, the “800-pound gorilla in the room it looks like they are determined to do is the Medicaid issue that eats up additional revenue they get. Until they get that revenue, they are holding off on the budget.”

Also, the Legislature is discussing changing the sales tax distribution back to the way it was formulated prior to 2007. In 2007, the state lawmakers voted to make the distribution to counties based 75 percent on point-of-purchase and 25 percent on per capita, Austin explained.

There has been more recent discussion of making the distribution 5o percent each as it used to be, which would help counties like Yadkin, but “they are getting a lot of fight from urban counties and tourism areas,” he said.

In other updates during the meeting:

• County Manager Lisa Hughes introduced Gary Groce, the county’s new finance officer as of July 1. Groce took the role which Hughes filled prior to being named county manager. He has been with the county since 2012 and became deputy finance officer when Hughes was named interim county manager.

• Construction at the Yadkin Center of Surry Community College on the new agriculture building is moving along well, Hughes said. Cinder blocks walls are erected and work has begun on the second floor, with substantial completion on target for the end of April. Once construction is complete, the Yadkin Early College will move in that building as well, and the mobile classrooms will be removed from the campus.

• The county submitted a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant application to continue work on the Yadkin Memorial Park to add more trails, primitive camping and restroom facilities.

• Hughes updated the group on the progress of reopening the hospital, which closed unexpectedly earlier this year when the former operators shut down the facility. The county has employed Spectrum to determine what services the citizens want in the facility, and a report should be forthcoming in the next four to six weeks. Also, Criterion has been hired to inspect the structure and see if it will fit what the citizens want. That studying also should be reading in four to six weeks.

• Martin told the joint boards this year’s first week of school opening was “the smoothest first week I’ve ever experienced in my whole career.”

• Graduation rates have been reported for the county’s high schools. County-wide the rate is 89.9 percent, which Martin said is the highest rate ever in Yadkin County. With a goal set of 90 percent, he said the school system still has work to do. Individually, Starmount and Forbush had rates above 90 percent and the Early College had a 100 percent rate for the second consecutive year. He said figuring in the dropout rate is what brought the rate below 90 percent.

• The second year of LEGO League robotics competitions are planned. Teams at the middle schools are working on their robots now in preparation for a scrimmage at the middle schools on Oct. 19, and county tournament in the Starmount Middle School gym on Oct. 29 at 3:30 p.m. Martin said the program is based solely on donations, so the system is always looking for support.

Wendy Byerly Wood can be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood

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