Senate Bill 554 fails and legislators head home

By Sarah Willets - [email protected]

Robbie Ferris

LUMBERTON — It’s back to the drawing board for an effort to consolidate Robeson County schools after a bill central to that plan failed to pass the General Assembly before legislators adjourned until January.

Robbie Ferris, CEO of sfL+a Architects, which proposed the consolidation, said the overall plan is still doable without the passage of Senate Bill 554, it may just need adjusting.

“I think there is a pathway forward and we’ll be working on that,” Ferris said Saturday morning.

Senate Bill 554 would have allowed local boards of education to lease schools.

As originally presented, the legislation was seen as a necessary part of the consolidation plan because it allowed school systems to put millions in state money toward operating lease payments. But, following objections by the Office of the State Treasurer, the bill was revised to remove state dollars as a funding option and it passed the Senate on Monday in a 49-0 vote.

Treasury officials said they found new problems with the bill, but would not discuss them with this newspaper. A newer version of Senate Bill 554 that included limiting the lease-purchase agreement to 30 years was attached to a separate schools bill Friday night but failed to pass and legislators adjourned.

Ferris said after his staff takes a needed Fourth of July vacation, they will begin to look at other ways to finance consolidation.

“I don’t really know what that looks like yet but I have a couple of options,” he said.

Ferris said a revised plan likely wouldn’t call for fewer schools to be built. The plan sfL+a Architects had pitched for Robeson County is built around a 40-year lease that uses savings from closing 30 schools to build 14 new ones, including a technical school.

“I doubt there would be fewer schools because the math doesn’t work with fewer schools,” he said.

Ricky Harris, Robeson County manager, said Friday that county commissioners and the school board will have to decide what’s next for the consolidation plan without Senate Bill 554.

The Robeson County Board of Commissioners has already signed a pre-development agreement with sfL+a Architects, but the Public Schools of Robeson County’s Board of Education decided to halt discussion on the consolidation plan until the fate of the bill was decided.

“We’ll be moving forward as long as the commissioners and the school board stay interested,” Ferris said.

The Robesonian was unable to contact any officials with the county or Board of Education for their reaction because of the holiday weekend, but will do so after the Fourth of July.

Legislators adjourned at about midnight Friday. The next session convenes Jan. 11.

Robbie Ferris Ferris

By Sarah Willets

[email protected]

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

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