Ongoing repairs and depleted funds have delayed opening

PENDER COUNTY -- Pender County Schools announced Monday night that students will not return to class until Oct. 18 at the earliest amid ongoing issues with school repairs.

Schools spokeswoman Miranda Ferguson sent the alert at 9:35 p.m. Monday. Superintendent Steven Hill wrote that the reopening date for schools, which officials hope would come Wednesday, has been pushed back to Oct. 18, "with a window extending to Oct. 22nd, based on environmental hygienist and contractor reports."

Hill wrote that the district's fund balance has been exhausted by emergency repairs to schools after Hurricane Florence, as has $4 million allotted by county commissioners for additional repairs.

"By law, school systems cannot enter into repair contracts without possessing the funds to cover the contract," Hill wrote. "PCS cannot complete repair work without reception of these funds. We are engaged in local, state and federal government discussions to try and overcome this situation."

Hill noted that 64 Pender County Schools staffers have been displaced from their homes after the storm, as have approximately 600 students. If schools reopen Oct. 18, that will mean district students will have missed a total of 27 school days. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law last week a bill allowing storm-impacted districts to excuse up to 20 missed school days.

On Monday Cooper's office also announced it had directed $25 million from the North Carolina Education Lottery Fund to be put toward school repairs after the storm. it was not immediately clear how much of that money could go to Pender County Schools.

Hill said he will provide updates on the situation every 48 hours.

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.