NEWPORT CITY – North Country Union High School teacher and track coach Gary Johnson had his say about the newly refurbished track at Tuesday night’s full board meeting.
Last year the school board agreed to refurbish the track providing the project used no taxpayer dollars. Johnson made a commitment to head up the fundraising efforts and, to date, he has raised about $88,000. Later in the year, the board agreed to start the project even though there wasn’t enough money.
Johnson attended Tuesday’s meeting to “clarify” things stated in the paper recently. He told the board that last July the fundraising committee had $85,000, had plans to raise more and was hoping for a state grant. Johnson also presented three possible plans and left the July meeting with the idea of possibly leasing the track, an idea that came from business director Glenn Hankinson. However, a 2007 state law does not allow a municipal lease.
Unbeknownst to Johnson, the finance committee brought the idea of refurbishing the track to the full board, which agreed to support it. Later on, Johnson met with Hankinson, athletic director Mike Kiser, principal Bill Rivard and superintendent Dr. Robert Kern to set the project budget between $180,000 and $200,000. The project ended up costing $188,000 and $12,000 was for new pole vault pits.
Johnson said the board took the high road when it decided to proceed with replacing the outdated track and the board should recognize the track was an enormous community effort.
“The board’s current position is that this has been an assigned project to the finance ops committee,” said Amaliksen, who said the anticipated grant money ended up going for Tropical Storm Irene relief.
The board needs to continue to support the track, Amaliksen said.
“We’re not going to tear up the track that's out there and send it back to somebody,” said Amaliksen
One way to solve the cost problem is to use excess cash from the sale of school buses. Amaliksen and school board member Peter Moskovites, of Charleston, said the bills for the track have been paid through the cash flow account.
“We have a checking account, which has lots of money in it,” Moskovites said. “By the end of the year we have to reconcile. We will take care of it. Cash flow, that's what it is.”
The committee has put the issue off until the budget cycle is over, Moskovites said.
Board member Richard Cartee, of Newport City, who said no board member opposed the track, reminded the board that the project was not to use any tax dollars.
“I have no problems having it there, but I think we misled the public and that’s where we got into trouble,” said Cartee. “If we had a cash flow and we were going use the budget money, then tell them, don’t tell them, ‘No we will not use taxpayer money’.... My concern is, technically and in words, we misled the public when we said no tax dollars will be used,” said Cartee. “If we had asked them, they probably would have said yes, but we didn’t ask them.”
Board Member Deb Cogan of Newport City said the track was supposed to be a community-funded project.
She said the track had been deteriorating and was not safe to use.
Johnson promised that the committee will continue to fundraise but it will not be able to raise another $88,000.
“The finance ops still has a charge from this board to come up with the funds in a way that meets the requirements that we put forward,” Amaliksen said. “If they have a difficult time with it, then they have to come back to the full board for approval. We did not go around any areas in a way to deceive people; it was all above board and it was done for the betterment for the community and our students especially.”