A $150,000 request by Sampson County Schools for a new track at Hobbton High School was denied by the Sampson Board of Commissioners in a 3-2 vote Monday night following a feisty exchange between commissioners and a recess to review rules of order.
Dewain Sinclair, chairman of the Sampson County Board of Education, spoke to county commissioners last month on the matter, which was tabled at that time. He said $100,000 has already been earmarked for the project, but that would only get them about a third of the way to the estimated $300,000 goal.
“Each district has set aside money,” Sinclair said, “but not nearly enough to start a track project.”
He again talked about the efforts of Hobbton track coach Jeff Klaves and the “all-time high” participation in the successful program. He echoed some of those comments Monday, saying it was an unfortunate situation to have any high school, let alone the oldest high school in the county in Hobbton, lacking track and field facilities.
“It’s been a pride for the community,” Sinclair said. “These kids have never had a home (meet). They’re always on the road and it’s a huge inconvenience and a safety issue … with them traveling to Lakewood and Midway just for practice.”
Three generations of Sinclair’s family attended the school. He said he hoped the funding request “falls on understanding and supportive ears” so that deserving students could benefit.
“If any one of our county’s high school campuses did not have a football field, basketball gymnasium or a baseball diamond, there would be an uproar of community disapproval,” he has stated. “We feel it is within this same sentiment that the track and field project at Hobbton High School deserves to be undertaken.”
The estimated cost range for the project is between $300,000 and $325,000. Several years back, the school board voted to set aside $100,000 for each district, to be used on special projects. Should the county approve $150,000, he noted, the remaining $50,000-$75,000 would be raised through community fundraising, donations and possible additional capital outlay funding in upcoming years.
Along with the soccer field and track, the plans include spaces for a high jump, pole vault, triple jump and long jump and shot put. The plans were sent to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for approval and are expected back “any day” so the project can be bid.
“We know we can’t start a project with what we have in hand so we need some support from the county commissioners,” Sinclair stated.
‘If you vote no, I’m voting no’
Commissioner Sue Lee said she was in “full support” of the track project, but wanted the request to come through the budget. Sinclair said the track was looked at as more of a “special project,” whereas the county schools budget is tied up with capital outlay items for 18 schools. Chairman Billy Lockamy said the $150,000 budget amendment would mean essentially “advancing” the school system money.
In the past, including as part of budget deliberations, Kirby has cited Hobbton’s need for a track. Commissioner Harry Parker brought up that point, prompting comments from Kirby, who was not present for the meeting last month.
“I looked at funding, and Hobbton seems to have been one of the unwanted stepchildren,” Kirby stated. “It seems unfair when you have one school in the county that doesn’t have a track, and you have such great interest in track and field. I think it would do a lot to uplift those kids and boost morale.”
Kirby said his and Commissioner Sue Lee’s alma mater, Clinton High School, has athletic amenities. He pointed to the two Hobbton graduates on the board, Commissioner Clark Wooten and board chairman Billy Lockamy.
“If Commissioner Wooten votes yes, I’ll vote yes tonight,” Kirby professed. “If he feels like we shouldn’t do this tonight, I’m going to follow his (lead). I’m going to vote no if he votes no, so be sure to call him — don’t call me — if there is any concern later on about you not getting your track that I think you deserve. You have to weigh the benefit and what kind of smiles that is going to put on those kids’ faces if they have their own track.”
He reiterated Hobbton was the school where Wooten and Lockamy graduated.
“Clark, if you vote yes, I’m voting yes right now. If you vote no, I’m voting no,” Kirby attested.
Wooten made a motion to “call into question.” Attorney Joel Starling said no motion was made, so the action could not be performed. Commissioner Harry Parker then made a motion to approve funding the request, quickly seconded by Lockamy.
Wooten then made a motion that the vote be roll-called by seniority. Kirby said he objected to the motion, saying such a process “doesn’t exist” in Robert’s Rules of Order governing Parliamentary Procedure. Starling said he would have to double-check. A 10-minute recess was taken, during which Kirby and Wooten met in private conversation for a couple minutes.
When the meeting was back in session, Starling went over the rules of order, noting such a roll call was not included.
Riding an unpopular train
“First of all,” Wooten said, addressing Kirby, “you did bring up the track. As I told you on the side there, I wouldn’t have done that to you for any amount of money. So if you’re going to follow me, follow me here for just a minute.”
He discussed his close ties to the Hobbton community and with Sinclair, whom he called a lifelong friend, as well as others, including Al Britt, athletic coordinator for Sampson County Schools, and county school board member Pat Usher.
“I was already in a tough spot, and you finished the checkmate,” Wooten said. “I’m going to stand on my principles. Dewain Sinclair said he wanted his school system to be second to none, and I want the same thing. The students at Hobbton High School who run track deserve a track. Let me ask you this: if you had an opportunity to give a kid a gift that would give forever — an education — or give 50 kids a track, ponder on which one you would do.”
“I want the kids to have a track, but my objection to this whole process is how this came to us,” said Wooten. “It’s the job of the Board of Education. This is not how this is supposed to work.”
He mentioned how the people of Garland just a few months back asked for assistance when dealing with an inflated law enforcement contract and the numerous others “who wanted to use taxpayer money to subsidize” services.
“I stood my ground,” he said, referring to those other instances of funding requests. “When those people who are back there leave here, they aren’t going to like me, but when I go home I’m going to stand on my principles.”
He mentioned another former school board member Glenn Tart, who he said was also a good friend. Tart called Wooten recently and talked about the importance of a track at Hobbton.
“You can add him to the list of ones who are going to be mad at me,” said Wooten, before addressing Kirby again. “Mr. Kirby, you want to follow me, that’s the train you’re going to have to ride — and it ain’t a popular one.”
In response, Kirby reiterated his comments that Hobbton has not received the funding other schools have and he said having a track is a fundamental part of the educational experience.
“This is a small measure,” said Kirby. “The reason I put the pressure on you is you don’t have to have them be mad at you. You can vote yes and still not lose one bit of sleep, because that’s the moral thing to do. You can talk about standing on principles, but that’s the principle I’m on. It’s easy.”
Kirby called it “implausible” and “irrational” to deny students the track when everyone else has one. Before the vote, Parker gave his two cents in favor of the funding.
“That’s the oldest high school in Sampson County, and they don’t have a track and field,” he said simply, recapping the extra student travel, the program’s success and the inequity of not having the necessary facilities. “You know that’s not right. Those students need a track there. Right is right. All of it is a part of education. Look at how many professional people have come out of (Clinton High School) because they had the facilities. We’re trying to raise productive students. I think those children need respect.”
Lockamy called for the vote, raising his hand while Parker raised his, both in approval of the funding. Kirby glanced at Wooten. Lockamy then asked for opposing votes. Lee and Wooten raised their hands, and Kirby quickly followed.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.