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UNFINISHED BUSINESS

by Keith Barber

A face-to-face meeting between Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall and Darrell Walker, assistant superintendent of operations for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, failed to resolve Marshall’s concerns surrounding how the school system spent its capital improvement funds at Carver High School during the 2008-09 school year. Marshall and Walker agreed on one thing at their May 7 meeting — there has been miscommunication between the school system and the county commissioners regarding the expenditure of $7.3 million in capital improvement funds generated by a 2006 school bond referendum.

“We were singing from different hymn books,” Marshall said. “He was working off another page.” Carver High School is situated in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of east Winston-Salem. Carver High School is one of six Forsyth County high schools designated as an “equity plus” school due to the fact that more than 35 percent of its students receive free or reduced price lunches. During a briefing by Walker on the school system’s capital improvements on April 30, Marshall contended that there is a racial disparity in the school system. “You basically have two school systems in Forsyth County,” Marshall said. Marshall acknowledged that Walker came on board with the school system in 2008 — two years after he and former assistant superintendent Gene Miller had discussed a list of potential capital improvements at Carver High School. However, Marshall asserted that the capital projects list for 2008-2009 was inaccurate and included improvements for Carver High School that were never approved by the county commissioners. “To justify that they had spent the $327,000, there were two additional projects that were added that were not part of the original list,” Marshall said. The projects schedule indicates $327,000 would be spent at Carver High School for the resurfacing of the student lot and various improvements. The projects schedule also indicates $90,000 would be appropriated for the school’s athletic fund. Replacement of a cooling tower and replacement of a hot water storage tank — two projects that totaled $145,000 — were not on the original project list approved by county commissioners last year, Marshall said. At the moment, the parking lot repaving projects have still not been completed and the school system’s addition of other projects to the list appeared to be part of a “cover-up,” Marshall said. “I pointed out [to Walker] that it had not been done,” Marshall said. “He still has not come up with a timetable. I’ve spoken with [County Manager] Dudley [Watts]. The money’s in the bank. I don’t understand the delay. Someone was trying to cover up, to show they had done something.”

ForsythCounty Commissioner Walter Marshall surveys the condition of a path tothe Carver High School baseball stadium on May 5. Marshall claims theWinston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has not kept its commitment tofinishing a list of capital improvements approved by the board ofcommissioners. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Walker said he and Marshall went over the list of capital improvement projects for the 2008-2009 school year and discovered they were working from two differentlists. “There was a communication gap there,” Walker said. AtMarshall’s request, Walker brought all contractor invoices and receiptsto the meeting. Walker said he first saw the letter composedby Gene Miller and dated Sept. 12, 2006 at last week’s meeting. In theletter, Miller listed improvement projects Marshall had requested forCarver High School, with an estimated total cost of $250,400. Walkersaid when he came on board last year, he was not aware of the 2006letter. Those projects would have had to be approved for the 2007-2008school budget, and according to the school system, it did not receivefunding for those projects. The reason the other projects were added tothe list was based in part on his lack of knowledge of the 2006 list.However, a number of the projects on the list have either beencompleted or are in the process of being completed, Walker said. “We’remore on the same list than I thought,” he said. During a tour of Carveron May 5, Marshall pointed out the line of demarcation created when thecontractor, Larco Construction Company, stopped working on the project.About a quarter of the parking lot was not repaved. In the originalrequest, Marshall had asked the school system to pave the access roadto the lot off Carver School Road as well. A visual inspection of theaccess road revealed it had not been resurfaced “in years,” Marshallsaid. Marshall also pointed out that the cost of repaving the MountTabor High School parking lot was completed for $90,000, nearly $60,000less than a smaller job at Carver High School, according to schoolsystem records. Walker said the access road had not beenrepaved because of a spike in gas prices last year that led to anincrease in the price of asphalt. The budgeted amount for the project,$110,000, soared to $148,000. In addition, the $148,000 could not coverthe entire surface included in the original project, so the centraladministration asked Carver High School administrators to indicate themost important area to be covered. Carver High School officials saidthe bus parking lot area was the priority, and repaving the backparking lot was postponed indefinitely, Walker said. Explaining theprice difference between the projects at Carver High School and MountTabor High School, Walker said Carver High School required the removalof the previous surface and repaving, whereas Mount Tabor High Schoolonly required repaving. During the May 5 tour, Marshallpointed out that the area behind the gymnasium adjacent to the footballfield that had also not been repaved as he had requested in 2006.Marshall surveyed an access road to the baseball field that had notbeen widened and had not received a fresh bed of gravel. He pointed outthat undergrowth around the football field had only been partiallyremoved.

Walkersaid he could not commit to widening the access road. He said theundergrowth was only partially removed due to concerns about increasederosion resulting from the removal. Marshall said he wassatisfied with Walker’s claim that he was unaware of the 2006 letterfrom Gene Miller, but the discrepancies between the list of projectsapproved by the county commissioners last year and the list presentedApril 30 causes him great concern. During the April 30briefing from Superintendent Donald L. Martin Jr., Marshall disputedthe accuracy of the capital projects reports presented by the schoolsystem. At the time, Marshall said Carver High School had only spent$45,000 on athletics plus the cost of a new sprinkler system, and thatno other improvements had been completed. School board memberVictor Johnson, who represents District 1, said it was unfair forMarshall to place all the blame on the school system for the issues atCarver High School. “It’s a problem in the administration atCarver of getting things done,” Johnson said. “I can’t really see it asthe board’s problem. I think it’s the school administration’s fault fornot putting pressure on the board. The schools where I’ve worked, we’vegotten most of the things we needed.” Johnson, a formerassistant principal at Carver High School, said maintaining ball fieldsand other athletic facilities is the responsibility of schools’ boosterclubs. “Carver has had a good football program for the past 15years — they’re making money. They should take care of the problems,”Johnson said. “Walter knows the story. They made the money; some thingsshould’ve been taken care of. They got two state championships infootball. The girls basketball team has won at least one[state title] so they should have some money.” Marshall said hisinvestigation into the matter revealed major flaws in how the schoolsystem spends and accounts for the expenditure of its capitalimprovement dollars. “From this point on, the county will bemore vigilant and looking at those records after what we haveuncovered,” he said. “At this point, all I want to know is if theycomplete those projects. Any further investigations will have to comefrom someone else. It makes you question why something like thishappened.”

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