The Liberty County Board of Education met Tuesday for its monthly work session and had a special retreat afterward to discuss the future of the school system, including the Career Academy’s still-debated construction site and future transportation needs.
As late as Monday evening, both county and BoE attorneys were discussing changes to the wording of the contract that would allow the construction of the $8 million to $9 million project.
"We still don’t have a final agreement," Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said of the contract wording. "We’ve gone round and round, back and forth … our attorney is saying ‘you’re basically signing a blank check when you sign this agreement.’ And that, we’re not comfortable doing."
BoE members were concerned mostly about the reportedly vague wording of the agreement terms with the current property owners, the Liberty County Development Authority, and who exactly would
be responsible for the upkeep of a retention pond and utilities, Scherer
If the paperwork is altered to meet the BoE’s standards, the academy likely would be built on 15 acres of donated property within the Hinesville Technology Park.
"We’ve worked on this for as long as we can," the superintendent said. "So, as of this moment, we don’t have an agreement that we can live with."
Board members agreed with Scherer to try one more time to work with the LCDA before breaking ground next month another piece of BoE-owned property. Scherer said she understands that both groups met in good faith, assuming the project was going to happen, but after many contract tweakings, the wording is not what the BoE thinks is fair for future board members for the next 50 years.
"I think that’s fine, Dr. Scherer. I don’t think anybody would disagree with what you’re saying — that we need to move forward," BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker said.
The program would offer high school students an opportunity to participate in local employment opportunities in fields such as aircraft support; construction; carpentry; electrical work; graphic design; communications; metals technology; computer networking; computer repair; website design; culinary arts; engineering; engineering graphics and design (CAD); therapeutic services, such as nursing; warehousing and distribution; cosmetology; automotive; HVAC, and law enforcement.
BoE members also reviewed information and research regarding the LCSS transportation system, which ferries students to and from school and other school-related activities throughout the week.
According to Director of Transportation Tony Norce, 139 bus routes are driven every day. When fully staffed, the department has approximately 180 employees.
Because of budget cuts and funding issues, Norce came before the board to present cost-effective plans to hold onto newly purchased buses for 10, 14 or 20 years, depending on what BoE members are most comfortable with.
The topic was also brought up since several of the buses within the fleet are aging, which soon will require BoE members to make purchasing decisions.
"I figured I’m going to show you what I’ve got for a vision," Norce said. "Again, I’m just looking at doing some research and coming up with a plan."
The director referenced phone calls he has received from concerned parents about buses running late, and said that the issue hasn’t been completely resolved, but is getting better because to newly employed staffers.
Although the plan is still in the discussion stages, Norce asked BoE members to consider his recommendation to keep buses on the road for 20 years — refurbishing and buying new ones from time to time — to get the most wear out of the vehicles and to save money.
"They [mechanics] tell me in all confidence that we can keep a bus safe for 20 years," he said. "Trust me, I would love to buy new buses every year … but it’s going to cost us."
The 182 LCSS buses average 12,000 miles a year and bus engines are generally good for about 500,000 miles, said Norce.
Board members also will consider the addition of GPS devices and installing camera systems on buses to help monitor student behavior and safety. Air conditioning on buses is another cost BoE members may consider during the next few meetings.
"It is evident you put a lot of time in this … " Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones told Norce. "After your presentation, I think it’s an excellent plan."