Smith puts on a show, but not likely to help

If red-faced indignation inspired by exasperation over the pace with which the Public Schools of Robeson County is struggling to its feet following Hurricane Matthew’s pounding could expedite that process, all would be fixed today.

But it can’t — and whether it will quicken the process, we can all hope so, but call us skeptical.

School board member Dwayne Smith had had enough, and on Tuesday night, he made clear that he was tired of excuses and demanded answers on why more traction had not been achieved on repairing schools hit hardest by Matthew, West Lumberton and W.H. Knuckles elementary, and in finding a new home for administrators.

We cheer Smith’s passion, but his finger was pointing in the wrong direction.

There is nothing that is going to speed up the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a public bureaucracy, and we doubt private insurance companies are going to get bullied into settling claims.

Smith’s wrath was directed toward Hugh McIlwain, director of internal affairs and finance for the district, who was before the board on Tuesday to give it an update on progress toward putting the broken pieces back together. Erica Setzer, the system’s finance director, attempted to intervene on McIlwain’s behalf, but she was cut off by Smith, who was clearly more interested in talking than in listening.

Smith demanded that those at the top of the food chain appear before the school board when it meets in April, when he promised to give them a good talking to.

“I’m talking about the big dogs,” Smith said. “They need to be here next board meeting so they can get chewed on a little bit, so we can get some actions. We need the higher-ups with the insurance company … we need them here and they need to get ready.”

We doubt he has an audience.

As McIlwain said, “Good luck.”

For all the chest pounding, the system’s hands are tied while it waits on money, both from insurance and FEMA, and we doubt Tuesday night is going to turn those wheels more quickly.

What could be discerned despite the noise is that the Board of Education is at the front end of trying to figure out where it will locate the new central office and that two locations, and perhaps a third, are being considered.

The board on Tuesday decided to send a letter to the county Board of Commissioners expressing its interest in three buildings and five parking lots on Elm Street on the edge of downtown Lumberton. The properties would become available when — and if — the county moves administrators and other offices into the old BB&T building, but much more has to be done before those renovations can even begin.

Board member Craig Lowry suggested the system look to property it owns near its warehouse on U.S. 74, where several departments are now located temporarily, and there appears to be support on the board for that to happen. Our guess is the board might split over these two options.

A third option could be the BB&T building itself, which Commissioner Roger Oxendine floated as a possibility during his board’s retreat last week. But even if that building were gifted to the schools, renovations there would be quite costly.

There does appear to be a commitment to keep the central office in the county seat, which is central to the county and accessible by good highway coming from all directions. That is where it must be.

What is also clear is that it will be a long time until the Public Schools of Robeson County has a new and permanent home, and that in the interim it will have to make the best of it.

No amount of shouting will change that.

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