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Lottery money put to bleachers, but grudgingly

A wide selection of bleachers at nearly every secondary school in Haywood County will get some repairs and replacements thanks to lottery funds approved by county commissioners, but the decision was not without contention from some on the board.

Commissioner Bill Upton, long-time superintendent for the county’s schools, raised questions about the wisdom of using lottery funds for bleachers when the state is facing a $4 billion budget shortfall.

Upton expressed concern that, in the new budget, local schools will get state teaching money slashed and may need to rely on those lottery funds, which were last year freed up by the General Assembly to pay for teachers.

“Ultimately, you’ll come to the commissioners if you need more teachers,” Upton told Tracy Hargrove, the schools’ maintenance head who came to ask for the funds.

Hargrove countered with a safety argument, telling commissioners that the school system has been cited by its insurance company since 2007 for faults in the bleachers and couldn’t really justify leaving the repairs until later when they are so frequently used.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick told Hargrove he agreed with the measures, but was also concerned about the political and financial implications of the decision if teacher funding is, in fact, cut again in next year’s state budget.

“We don’t want to get into a political battle over, well the commissioners won’t give us money for the teachers when we’re approving improvements to bleachers,” said Kirkpatrick.

Michael Sorrells, the newest commissioner and long-time school-board member, came out in favor of the schools’ request, posing the question of what would happen if the repairs weren’t made.

“We’re just taking a chance,” answered Hargrove. “It’s got to be done at some point. We’re just taking on the liability if we don’t do something.”

In the end, the repairs passed unanimously, but Upton said he just wanted to make sure the county and its schools were thinking far enough in advance.

“It will get political when we start sending teachers home, and we will in Haywood County. I just want to make sure we think about all these things before we make a decision,” said Upton.

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