Board members have repeatedly shown their lack of fiscal restraint, and just plain common sense, on multiple capital projects. The millions of wasted dollars could have been spent on teaching and learning but the board refuses to ask local legislators or the Local Government Commission for permission to easily convert excess capital dollars to the classroom. Instead, the board seeks to line the pockets of a few select businessmen in the name of “economic development.”
The Enka school was supposed to cost $25 million plus interest. The commissioners gave permission to borrow this amount even though there were monies available in the school construction fund (a portion of the Article 39 sales tax.) Neither Board questioned declining enrollment and competition from NC’s School Choice program (public charters and opportunity scholarships to private schools). The current cost of the school is right around $32.3 million. At the May budget work session, the school superintendent, Tony Baldwin (no relation to the reporter) and school board realized that they couldn’t open the school in the fall without hiring extra teachers, costing $3.3 million. The 6th graders alone need teachers for elective courses (Band, Spanish, Computer Technology, Chorus, Orchestra, Art etc.) that middle schools already employ.
You see the intermediate school model (5th-6th grades) not only has additional quantitative costs, but qualitative ones as well. Buncombe administrators have sold parents a fake bill of goods. The intermediate mode is probably the worst education model in existence. No one else is building these schools. A Gaston County school board member once said, “We bought a building from a private school and used it as an intermediate school. This was an emergency stop-gap measure due to overcrowding in our district.” Board member Mark Upchurch said Gaston County Schools got rid of that intermediate school “as fast as they could.”
All three of the existing intermediates in Buncombe are failing. School performance grades are below a 70. Parents are not vested in these 2 year schools; they do not offer the stability and sense of community that is so important to keeping kids in school. Koontz Intermediate has lost over 200 of the 800 students. Over 10% of Buncombe students are now homeschooled and public charter schools cannot keep pace with applications for enrollment. The new public charter school opening this fall, FernLeaf, had over 500 applicants for 176 seats in K-3. They will add a grade each year. The charters understand that K-8 schools, with a degree of separation between elementary and middle, are the best education model for students.