Stewart explains his conversion on schools

Roofing expert testifies about immediate needs
Sep. 21, 2013 @ 04:42 PM

Board of Education Member Kevin Stewart's testimony continued Thursday afternoon and into Friday. 

Thursday afternoon School Board Attorney Richard Schwartz asked Stewart about the facilities committee. The minutes from the May meeting reflected that the committee moved certain projects down their priority list. Stewart said that was due to financial constraints and they were being told there was no money. 

Schwartz also asked about a May 15 meeting between Stewart, School Board Chairman Richard Yercheck and the Union County Board of County Commissioners. Stewart said it was not a joint meeting as he understood it. He said they were there to answer five questions the commissioners posed. Stewart said he was there to discuss capital projects, while Yercheck talked about ongoing needs. 

Stewart said Yercheck made it "crystal clear" to the commissioners that they were available for further questions. He said they invited them to ask questions, said they would be available and they would make staff available. 

Stewart said they did not hear from them until a June 24 joint meeting at South Piedmont Community College. 

Schwartz asked if he made any interactions with the commissioners that night. Stewart said he cordially greeted everyone and shook hands. However, he said Commissioner Jonathan Thomas told him he would rather spit in his hand than shake it. 

Stewart said Thomas said he was a liberal and should apologize for what he has done to the conservative cause. 

"Are you a liberal?" Schwartz asked, eliciting a few laughs from other school board members. 

Stewart replied that people who know him know, "My politics is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun." 

When interviewed about the interaction in June, Thomas said he did not know what Stewart was talking about. 

Thomas said in June he went around to everyone before the meeting, shaking hands and saying hello, though he was not sure if Stewart was in the room.

“I don’t know what his perception is,” Thomas said, when asked if Stewart’s recollection was correct in a June interview. “It’s not for me judge his perception...I’ve been called names and I’ve been referred to on his social media site.”

After reading blog posts and e-mails to establish Stewart's past vocal criticisms of the board, Schwartz asked why he had seemingly changed his mind. 

Stewart testified that along the way he found out what the truth was and not what he had "been fed."

"It became crystal clear to me that I had to change positions," Stewart said. "The truth is the truth."

Stewart said he felt like Paul the Apostle, sent on the road to Damascus by powerful men to persecute people who do not deserve it. 

Schwartz continued to ask about capital needs. He asked Stewart if he or any board member looked at the county's audits online. Stewart said not that he was aware of and that he personally had not. 

Stewart said he believed his "compadres" on the board of county commissioners would act with honesty and integrity. He testified that he should not have to second guess everything. 

Schwartz asked if the needs presented were "real and immediate" needs and Stewart said yes. Schwartz asked if there were more needs than were presented and Stewart said yes. 

When asked why they did not ask for more, Stewart said they were asked to give a "bare bones" budget because they were told there was no money. 

Board of County Commissioners attorney Ligon Bundy began his cross-examination later Thursday afternoon. 

Bundy asked Stewart about the training new school board members received. Bundy asked who presented it and what information was given. 

Bundy asked if it was explained that local board can offer "enhanced" curricula. Stewart said it had been a while and he did not remember that portion. 

Bundy then asked about Stewart's run for office and his previous campaigns. Bundy asked if anyone suggested he run for school board and Stewart said Brian Rogers, chief operating officer of the Jesse Helms Center, did. 

Stewart confirmed to Bundy that he had been considering a run for county commissioner. He said that he was later told that Commissioner Richard Helms would run with Commissioner Frank Aikmus and they did not want to dilute the Republican ticket. 

Bundy also asked about Stewart's blog. Stewart testified earlier that day that he was the face of a blog critical of Union County Public Schools, but the blog had been created and paid for by Commissioner Todd Johnson. 

Bundy said the blog had been removed, Stewart said that happened a while ago. Bundy asked if the blog can be retrieved or if it was saved anywhere and Stewart said no. 

When asked why not, Stewart testified that it was because it had been shut down and it was not something he was proud of. 

Bundy had Stewart read Facebook posts he had made that were critical of County Manager Cindy Coto and other county officials. When Bundy asked if there were similar posts, Stewart said he had "made no bones about it."

The funding formula was again mentioned when Bundy asked Stewart if he opposed it. Stewart said he was not opposed to the formula as a tool. Bundy said it was a planning tool and Schwartz objected on the basis that the formula is not a tool and was never purported as a tool. 

Stewart testified that his intention was to have a public meeting with both boards about it that would be on the record. 

Bundy said if he wanted to sway the county commissioners, a good way would be to get them into open session in front of cameras. Stewart said that was Bundy's opinion and Bundy said it was a question. Judge Erwin Spainhour asked him to rephrase it. 

When the question was rephrased, Stewart said he was not an expert on changing the minds of the commissioners. 

Six million square feet

When court reconvened Thursday afternoon, Roofing Consultant Nelson Hall was accepted by the court as an expert witness. Hall has done consulting work with UCPS and is familiar with their roofing needs. He said he had consulted on 30 or 40 roofs for the system and did a partial roof assessment in 2007. 

Hall said the school system had about six million square feet of roofing. To replace the entire system's roofing, it would be about $15 a square foot, so about $90 million. Hall said the national average for a roof lifespan is about 20 years and proper maintenance could add another 10 years. 

Maintaining the roof costs approximately five cents a square foot, Hall testified. 

Over a 20-year span, the roofing would cost about $4.5 million a year and over a 30-year lifespan it would cost about $3 million a year. 

"That assumes we have a level playing field and we do not," Hall said. 

He said that some schools would have their roofs ranked as "failure" if looked at. A failure means that the roofs are leaking, have been repaired and are still leaking.

School Board Attorney Brian Shaw asked if the failing roofs should be replaced immediately and Hall said yes. 

Shaw asked how much money they would need to replace the failing roofs.

Hall said it was $11.8 million, a number he arrived to by combining the $2.4 million requested by the board of education and a $9.4 million estimate to replace the roofs. 

He said in most cases, the roofs have patches upon patches and are beyond repair. 

Hall estimated that 10 to 15 percent of the roofs in the system need new roofs immediately and another 10 to 15 percent of roofs in the system are in "imminent" need of new roofs, with imminent meaning within two to four years. He also noted that some roofs were still under warranty. 

When asked if he blamed any of this on the UCPS maintenance staff, Hall said no. He said the staff had demonstrated skill and diligence.

"Frankly, I'm amazed that some of these roofs are still watertight or semi-watertight," he said. 

Forest Hills High School in particular was identified as needing attention. Hall said that some parts of the roof are newer, but some are 30 years old. He said he recommended a re-roofing in 2007 to be scheduled for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. 

Hall said he has seen trash cans in the entrance hall to catch water from leaks and has been told by staff that when they go to fix existing leaks, they create more by walking on the membrane. 

Hall said that moisture can cause structural damage and noted that they had to do an emergency replacement at East Union Middle School a few months ago when there was a partial deck collapse. 

Hall will continue his testimony when court reconvenes Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.