The 52-Million-Dollar Beaufort County School Fiasco | Eastern North Carolina Now

This decision will set in stone one of the, if not THE, most inefficient cross-town busing systems in the state


By:  Hood Richardson

Last week, I wrote about how Frankie Waters, Chairman of the Beaufort County Commissioners, T. W. Allen, Chairman of the School Board and the Superintendent of Schools, Matthew  Cheeseman, have seized control of the 52-million-dollar school building project.  They have hired an architect and are proceeding to design a school without the involvement of the public or the boards they represent.

These men, without conducting studies to gather essential data and information, involving the public or obtaining board approvals, decided to abandon and demolish two useful schools.  They were un-willing to study or consider the state of education as a whole in Beaufort County.

There are elementary schools in Bath, Chocowinity, Aurora and John Cotton Tayloe and Eastern Elementary in Washington.   A study was not done to evaluate these schools collectively or individually as to the best future for Beaufort County children.  There are serious issues involving whether or not consolidated versus neighborhood schools are best for education.  These men made a decision not to consider how these issues impact the entire school system and the quality of education. These men made their decision in the back room without the benefit of study and hearing from the public.

Residents of all schools should be concerned that no comprehensive studies have been done to determine how the 52-million dollars will best serve education in Beaufort County.  There are serious issues within education in Beaufort County.  Among these are: declining enrollments in some, but not all schools, poor quality of education, lack of will by school administrators to enforce discipline, the teaching of race-based theories, teaching modern math, the emphasis on sexual orientation, the growth of private schools and home-based education to name a few.  School leadership, in this case, Chairman T. W. Allen and Matthew Cheeseman, seems to believe the public funding of education will last forever and that new buildings educate children.  Cheesman and Allen’s education is stunted.

Boards of County Commissioners have the hands-on responsibility to build school buildings and pay for them.  The State of North Carolina requires a separate independent Project Ordinance be set up for each capital project. Capital Project Ordinances are regulated by the Local Government Commission which is a division of the State Treasurer’s office.  The law requires the entire cost of the project (land and improvements thereto, building construction, furnishings and equipping the school) to be in the ordinance before money spending begins.  That is, the money to be spent is specified in the ordinance along with where it is coming from (taxes, grants, bonds, etc).  

Capital Project Ordinances protect the taxpayer from dishonest politicians and incompetent staff.  It is the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners to set up the ordinance and ensure the funding is available for the project(s).  Only the Board of County Commissioners can borrow money and assess tax property taxes to fund the Capital Project Ordinance.  Should there be a shortage of money, only the County Commissioners are empowered to raise taxes to cover the shortage.  School Boards have no taxing authority.  They have limited borrowing authority. Thus, the ultimate responsibility for building schools is assigned by law to the Board of County Commissioners.  One or two school board members have NO authority to decide what will be spent.  Only the full Board of County Commissioners, via majority vote, has this authority and it must be done in a public meeting.  

At the present time we are operating without a Capital Project Ordinance for this new school.  Therefore, we should not be designing a new school building because there are no funds to pay for it.  School officials are careful to say that no funds have been spent to date.  The check may not have been written but the money is being spent with the hiring of the architect.

The preliminary County Budget is over 6 months old, has not been up dated and is incomplete.  Some of the issues in this budget are that the contingency has only 900,000 dollars when it should be closer to 2.5 million dollars in this inflationary environment.  There is the 8 million dollar over sizing of this building.     The cost of parking lots and streets is not set out.  There are rumors that all of the furniture in the present schools will be abandoned, and new furniture purchased.

Here is where Frankie Waters, T. W. Allen and Mathew Cheeseman are taking us.  They plan to design their school building, adjust the budget to fit the 52-million dollars, leaving out critical items or underestimating their cost, present this to the Board of County Commissioners with no advance notice, or involvement of the public, for passage and continue to do as they please.  Under no circumstance should the Capital Project Ordnance budget be presented and approved by the Commissioners at the same meeting. As construction of the new school nears completion, they will announce that they need additional funds because the County Commissioners never funded or underfunded items. They will demand that the additional expense be paid.  

The schools will get the money because of the ethical conflicts present on both Boards.  The wives of Randy Walker and Ed Booth are School Board Members.  Walker and Booth have never voted against their wives.  This situation is not illegal because there is no law against it.  However, there are severe ethical problems with this kind of collusion.

Frankie Waters attended a meeting with Cheeseman, T. W. Allen and the architect about three months ago in Pitt County. This meeting was not announced to the Commissioners or the public.  It was an illegal meeting.  They agreed to have a "progress meeting" chaired by Allen once each month and they would “graciously” allow County Commissioners and other school board members, to attend, same as any member of the public can attend.  This placed control of the project in the hands of not the School Board, but Cheeseman and Allen.  Frankie Waters, in his ignorance, or was it deceit, blundered. He sold out the Commissioners. If his unlawful and unethical deal holds, he is going to cost Beaufort County Taxpayers millions of dollars, in my opinion.

We need to go back to the drawing board, with the school board reporting information to Commissioners for the drafting of the Capital Budget Ordinance, do a study to make sure of what is the best future for Beaufort County schools considering cross town bussing, private schools, neighborhood schools and the quality of education.

But there is an even greater imperative to properly plan this decision.

Some will remember when the county and Washington City Schools were being merged that a group of citizens was appointed to study all of the issues related to merging the two school systems.  The “Merger Committee” held regular meetings and collected the data and information applicable to merging the two school systems and that ultimately became a proposed Plan of Merger that was approved by all three boards (city, county boards of education and the Board of Commissioners) in open sessions by majority vote.  

Some will recall that a major issue addressed by the Plan of Merger was school attendance areas and facilities.  Several alternative pupil assignments were developed.  Ultimately, the City Board of Education staunchly demanded that the entirety of the Washington School District become the Washington Attendance Area in a merged system.  This was reported to have been driven by a decision by the city school board to maintain a “unitary” grade structure.  That is, every child in each grade would attend the same school after merger.  That is how we got the student assignment plan that was used to facilitate merger.  It was reported that this “Single Attendance Area” for what was the Washington City School was necessary to get the Federal Judge to approve the merger.  At its heart the motive was to prevent predominate one-race schools in the elementary schools.  To this day, that decision has persisted as if “set in stone” in the current student assignment pattern.  The current Washington Attendance Area is a relic of the Washington City Schools.  

It is too long a story to report here, but when the last major bond issue was voted on by the people that built P. S. Jones and John Small schools off Market Street, School Superintendent (Tony Parker) explained to the Board of Commissioners that once the new schools were in place the School Board intended to revise the student assignment plan to make it a K-8, 9-12 feeder system.  This would have necessitated the review, and likely changes in the feeder system in not only Washington but Chocowinity and Bath as well.  The “whispered reason” for this (as explained by Dr. Parker to the Chocowinity Middle School PTO), was to eliminate the excessive cross-town bussing patterns in the Washington Attendance Area for elementary age children who were forced to switch schools every two years.  That busing pattern is grossly inefficient, with kids being bussed from one side of Washington across town to the opposite side even to the Pitt County line.  In other words, kids were bussed from the Old Ford and Clark’s Neck areas across town to Eastern Elementary and kids on the east side of Washington were bussed across town to John Cotton Tayloe.  Of course, this shifted the major burden of busing to the minority students who were bused one way for two years and then the opposite way the next two years, rather than attend neighborhood schools.  And that is what we still have in the Washington Attendance Area today.

Some of us spoke against this cross-town busing in the Washington Attendance Area.  We were told that it was temporary because it was the only way to satisfy the Federal Judge and U. S. Justice Department.  What has now happened with this proposal to build a mega elementary school to replace Eastern is that this inefficient busing patter will literally be set in stone.

When the “Thirty Million Dollar Bond Issue” was proposed to the people it was explained that the lopsided favoritism that saw new P. S. Jones and John Small schools built, shortchanging Chocowinity and Bath, that “someday” a new elementary school would be built, presumably on the west side of Washington (to attract development from Pitt County) and the grade structure shifted to K-5 or K-8 in the Washington Attendance Area.  This would have resulted in the elimination of the “cross-town busing” in the Washington Attendance Area.

So, this proposed new school to replace the existing Eastern School is a betrayal of us who believed we would eventually work our way out of the terribly inefficient cross-town busing system that came with merger. Some of us remember being promised that the inequitable burden of busing would be eliminate when we could go to a K-5 or K-8 feeder system.  I’ll forego a commentary on how it is that a commissioner for Pantego and a school board chairman from Pinetown came to be the lynchpins in these decisions being made for the Washington Attendance Area, while the commissioners and school board members who live in the Washington, Chocowinity and Bath Attendance areas get the wool pulled over their eyes.

The Bath School Area and the Chocowinity Schools should be given consideration. If the Eastern Elementary site is the best, the building should be properly sized.

If we do not do this project in a business-like way the cost to taxpayers will be in the millions, to say nothing about the burden of busing it will impose on school children for years to come.

Many people are misinformed about the “awesome” powers of the Chairmen of the School Board and the Board of County Commissioners.  Fake Frankie Waters and T. W. Allen have no special powers.  Their only power is to conduct the orderly meetings of these boards.  Their one vote is identical to any other board member.  There are emergency situations, hurricanes, riots, etc that they can declare emergencies when harm would be done if the boards were quickly assembled.  These actions are subject to the final approval of the entire board.

For these elected officials (Chairmen of the School Board and County Commissioners) to meet, whether by telephone, in person, by email, etc) and make decisions about how anything is to proceed, are violations of the spirit of the open meeting laws.  The open meetings laws are defined by the General Statutes of the State of North Carolina.  These laws require adequate notice to the public, the press and members of the boards. The open meeting laws are being violated.

The willing cooperation of the top officials of the School System and the County are required to make these violations of the open meetings laws work.  These officials have the duty to provide guidance to their boards.  On several occasions I have seen top officials advise against taking an action until “the full board sitting in open session” approves.  But that is not being done in this school construction charade.

Board members do not have a “get out of jail free” card on the issue of open meetings.  Each Board member has had instruction on the open meetings laws, has fiduciary responsibility, and is bound to  call out violations of the open meetings laws.  Commissioner Stan Deatherage and I have done this on several occasions.  We have been ignored by the other five members of the Board.  Commissioners Randy Walker and John Rebholz are running for election in November.  They are supporting these violations of the open meetings laws.

Usurping power and violating the open meetings laws are corrupt practices.  Unless honorable elected officials stand their ground, the corruption will get worse.  

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Big Bob said:
( May 24th, 2024 @ 8:57 am )
HR is an interesting guy.

If the board is the princes, hood is certainly the pea.
Big Bob said:
( May 24th, 2024 @ 8:36 am )
On this point I agree.... be careful where you build a 52 million dollar building. It's gonna flood. Climate change should be considered.
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 6:25 pm )
John Valley: Commissioner Richardson and myself proffered that we use what monies that would be needed to enhance schools that already exist, rather than tear down some of those buildings to build a school that is not needed, due to a shrinking student population, to be built on the lowest section of a relatively high tract of property.
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 3:03 pm )
Further reaming the taxpayer for 52 million dollars shouldn't come without consequence. The big issue that nobody's talking about is the fact that our public schools look like internment camps and function like them as well.

Eastern Elementary and JCT are two buildings of many that need serious renovation. 52 million dollars, invested in the right areas, could tighten up our neglected public buildings.

It's embarrassing that the turd has been shot this far down the path.
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 3:04 pm )
All Hood is doing is asking the commissioners to do their diligent duty, stop being lazy, and not just sit there as rubber stamps for other agencies. In other words, put in an effort! THINK! Yes, thinking is hard, but that is what you signed up for.
Put in a effort to protect the citizen's money! Plan ahead so that the unforeseen doesnt take you by surprise. STOP embarrassing yourselves by showing your behinds!

Would someone move Ed Booth to the other side of the room, I am tired of seeing him rolling his eyes and laughing broadly whenever Hood talks.

Beaufort Couty can be great again, when the commissioners start loving the citizens, more than the hate Hood.

AND... school board members lets staff do their thinking... I was told, "we have a job, family and a life outside here, that why we have staff."
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 11:08 am )
A clique of political and bureaucratic insiders came up with this plan without proper study, as has too often been the case with our schools. Our school needs should have been both studied by experts and also been submitted to public input. None of that was done. Management in our schools, and also in county government is a bad joke. Politicans and bureaucrats too often seek self-glorification, whether it is Langley with his jail or Cheeseman with his resume-driven school project.

As usual, our pathetic school board majority did little more than sit there as rubberstamps for whatever Boss Cheeseman dictated. We badly need a change on that board.
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 10:53 am )
Firebrand seems to be another woke commissioner who specializes in lying to the public. No part of our form of government ever intended for a few people to strong arm the public by taking control of normal business processes that are set out by statute.

Firebrand, do you have enough courage to identify yourself.
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 9:38 am )
Commissioner Hood Richardson wrote an informative and complete analysis on how to govern Beaufort County in a wise and conservative manner, which is what he has always held himself out to be - a Conservative - no more, no less, always consistently so.

Alternately, the liberal commentator "Firebrand," on this thread, is not smart enough to speak to the wide range of issues that Commissioner Richardson succinctly expressed; but instead "Firebrand" chose only to attack the wisdom of the 7 term conservative Republican Commissioner as Mr. Richardson is a bad man. Additionally, "Firebrand" (which I have just discovered) is not only a contextual idiot in the real terms of their effort as announced, but a fake entity with a fake email sneaking onto this platform, slipping through the monitored wall here on , in comment form, and will not be allowed back to this august publication.

However, I will leave "Firebrand's" sophistic recently expressed comment up as a relative point, contextually, and as the juxtaposed foil to Commissioner Richardson's well informative words of governing wisdom.
Big Bob said:
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 8:58 am )
You're and army of one.
Firebrand said:
( May 23rd, 2024 @ 12:08 am )
I have never heard such hogwash in my life. Hood is just grandstanding cause of the upcoming election. The meetings are open to the public. Time for the voters of Beaufort County to realize he doesn’t care about you. Hood is the reason businesses don’t want to move to our County. Time for Hood to retire and let someone who cares about Beaufort County take over.
( May 22nd, 2024 @ 2:53 pm )
This school ought to be named "Cheeseman's Folly" because it is all about building his resume for his next job, not about what our school system needs. The lack of any outside study on school system facility needs and the best way to accomplish those is glaring. This project is all about Cheeseman and nothing else. Many on the school board have not been in the loop, and the leadership who have known about it have been Cheeseman's flunkies. What a boondoggle.

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