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LUMBERTON — Moving forward with phase one of the Red Springs Athletic Complex construction project was approved Tuesday by the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County.

The recommendation to move forward was presented by Finance Committee Chairman and board member Mike Smith during the full board’s regular meeting. The first phase of the project costs about $588,000, with another 10% of that total added for contingency purposes. The first phase will involve clearing trees from about 4.5 acres of the site and preparing the land for the next phase.

Money had previously been identified and set aside for the project, Board Chairman Craig Lowry said.

The complex will include a softball and baseball field. A groundbreaking ceremony for the complex was held in April 2019, but the project was delayed because of a $2 million deficit in the PSRC budget.

“The goal is to be able to play on it in the spring of 2022,” Lowry said.

After a closed session, board members approved changing Public Information Officer Gordon Burnette’s title to chief information officer and promoting him to serve as a member of the superintendent’s Cabinet. He was offered a two-year contract with a salary of a little more than $68,000 per year.

Also approved Tuesday was the paving of Rex-Rennert Elementary School’s parking lot. The project must be bid out for an exact cost.

There is $222,000 in capital outlay funds left to cover the project, but more money can be taken from the fund balance for the project, said Erica Setzer, PSRC’s chief Finance officer.

Setzer also said the board received a clean audit for the fiscal year of 2019 to 2020, and increased funds in all areas except Prime Time, an after-school care program.

“So, we’re progressing and moving forward with increasing all these balances to get back to a really productive level,” Setzer said.

District Superintendent Freddie Williamson commended Setzer and her team for their efforts.

“Let me say to Erica and her team, congratulations, in unprecedented times with all, you have a clean audit, and then to increase every fund balance, thank you for your leadership, your work in your department,” he said.

Setzer also said a program called Confident Kids, which includes a contract with author Jennifer S. Miller, will equip parents with information to support the emotional and social development of children who have undergone remote learning. Miller’s book titled “Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids — from Toddlers to Teenagers” will be given to parents with children enrolled in PSRC schools. There will be six instructional sessions from March to June in the program paid for using PSRC’s Title I funding.

School Board member Dwayne Smith raised concerns about the auditorium at Lumberton High School and its electrical problems.

“It’s not even a mess. That’s an understatement,” he said.

“I’m all about, hey, we got a lot of needs, I get it. We got needs and wants, but you better take care of needs before we start having some issues in some of these areas that we need to address,” Dwayne Smith added.

Lowry said repairs to the school’s roof and auditorium are on the list of projects to be completed.

“We’re trying to do the best we can for the whole public schools of Robeson County,” Mike Smith said.

“You take little steps at the time, but it all adds up in the end,” he added.

The PSRC has a goal to complete roofing replacement and repair projects at about 11 schools this year, with a price tag of about $986,000, according to Setzer and Lowry.

Setzer also told Board members that educators who choose to have 10-month paychecks spread over 12 months will have until August to receive those checks. Because of the state’s decision to upgrade accounting software, the option to do so will go away after August, but the PSRC will find a solution.

“We just wanted to get the word out there that this will be changing,” Setzer said.

In other business, school board member John Simmons asked Superintendent Williamson if it is being considered for high school students who are 18 years old and have had a drivers license for six months to drive school buses at elementary schools in order to compensate for the shortage of bus drivers. Williamson said the school district is consulting with the state Department of Public Instruction on the matter.

Also during the meeting, School Board Attorney Grady Hunt recommended the Board continue meeting virtually in accordance with Executive Order 195, which limits capacity to 30% of fire capacity or seven people per 1,000 square feet. Inviting the public to attend in-person meetings could make the board exclude members or turn some away because of capacity requirements.

Dwayne Smith also spoke of teachers and staff members who have been hesitant to come back to school, but have taken trips elsewhere. Smith encouraged those people to put PSRC students’ learning first or consider changing careers.

“I think we’re all here to make sacrifices,” he said.

In related news, close to 1,000 educators signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine was not mandatory for educators upon reentry of schools, Superintendent Williamson said.

Board members also approved changing the April 13 regular board meeting date to April 20 at 6 p.m.

A moment of silence was observed ahead of the meeting in honor of Sandra Tramel, Charles Thrailkill and Twanna Hair, staff members who died recently. Tramel served as a school nurse at Oxendine and Rex-Rennert elementary schools, Thrailkill as an Exceptional Children teacher at St. Pauls High School and Hair was an East Robeson Primary school teacher.

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