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Boards at odds over school grant

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, February 10, 2019

While Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools looks set to have $20 million available for new school construction after receiving a $10 million state grant, Nash County commissioners are hoping to reduce the amount they will have to pay by resubmitting the grant application in hopes of getting more.

But school district leaders have different ideas.

In October 2018, the school district and Nash County commissioners were notified that the the school district will be receiving $10 million in grant funding from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund. That funding was awarded on the basis of Nash County’s Tier 2 status as well as a number of other factors.

But within three months, Nash County was dropped to a Tier 1 status, placing it among the most economically-depressed counties in the state and in the same tier ranking as Edgecombe County. While the change in status reflects bad news for the county economically, it places the county in a stronger position when it comes to grant funding.

If Nash County had been listed as a Tier 1 county when the grant application was made, it would have likely received $15 million in Needs-Based Public School Capital funds instead, Nash County manager Zee Lamb said. 

“We plan to reapply during the next grant cycle to see if we can get the $15 million grant instead of the $10 million since our status has changed,” Lamb told the Telegram.

Under the current grant, based on the former Tier 2 status, local funders — in this case, Nash County and Edgecombe County — would have to match the grant and fork out $10 million toward the school construction process, Lamb said. If the grant can be amended to reflect the county’s new Tier 1 status, the local match will be reduced to $5 million.

This is important, Lamb said, because Nash County is already set to lose roughly $5.5 million in lottery funds over a five-year period as a condition of accepting the grant.

Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis said result will be the same for the school district but will free up more money for Nash County if the grant reapplication is approved. If the new $15 million grant is approved, it would also benefit Edgecombe County, which is on the hook for roughly 13 percent of the local funding match based on the percentage of Edgecombe County students attending Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, Davis said.

“Whatever happens, we will still be building the same $20 million school,” Davis said. 

Several school board members asked Superintendent Shelton Jefferies last week if the school grant application would be resubmitted and Jefferies said it would not. The grant application must be submitted by the school district with the backing of Nash County commissioners.

“We can’t reapply for the same project and we were very fortunate to get those funds,” Jefferies said. 

School board attorney Rod Malone did not comment at the school board’s meeting last week on whether reapplication was possible but echoed Jefferies’ sentiments that the school district was fortunate to get the funds in the first place. 

“It is not easy to get those funds,” he said.

Some school board members raised concerns that reapplying may put the current grant in jeopardy. Both Davis and Lamb said the attempt would not endanger the current grant funding.

But delays in construction will jeopardize that funding, Davis said.

“Time is of the essence,” Davis said. “Even if we reapply, that should not affect the timetable and we need to move forward and use the money quickly. My concern is that we will lose the grant funding if the money is not used fast enough. My sense is that we should have the school under construction by the first quarter of 2020 if we are to protect those funds.”

The school board last week approved a site selection process that will likely take five to six months.

“We don’t want to rush this project,” Jefferies said at the time.

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