ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Board of Education will be talking to county commissioners about taking on debt for new school construction.
“I think one of biggest barriers (to consolidation) is that towns are afraid of losing schools in their community,” said Bladen County Superintendent Robert Taylor to the Board of Education at a special called meeting Monday night. “I don’t think anybody in a community wants the community to have zero schools, so that appears to be a starting point to making decisions.”
After giving the board a rundown of the schedule of the process thus far, Taylor moved on to the system’s financial situation by highlighting each school’s enrollment, utility costs, and staff. Utility costs at the two high schools run approximately $200,000 per year, and all the remaining schools range from $45,500 to $137,000. Taylor went on to inform the board about a bill currently being considered by the General Assembly that, if passed — and he believes it will — will necessitate adding 7.5 more teaching positions in the county.
Lastly, Taylor said he recently met with Emereau: Bladen’s Executive Director Kate Alice Dunaway, who informed Taylor the charter school — slated to open in the fall of 2017 — currently has around 150 students enrolled. While it is not known whether all of them are from Bladen County schools, Taylor said he expected if the school meets its goal of 308 students enrolled for the fall, 100 to 150 of them would transfer from Bladen County Schools.
The board then learned from Taylor that $1.97 million in revenue can be seen before committing to new construction. Revenue sources include lottery funds, capital outlay funds, and utility costs saved by closing schools.
When Bladen County Schools Maintenance Director Lou Nelon took the floor, he said he was operating under the assumption the board agreed with DPI’s recommendation to close Plain View, Booker T. Washington and either Clarkton School of Discovery or Tar Heel Middle. He described the movement from Plain View to Dublin Primary as the most impactful decision, saying the consolidation would “most certainly” require expansion at Dublin, at a price tag of $1.25 million for brick and mortar construction, or $280,000 for modular units.
Finance Officer Sharon Penny and Taylor both cautioned the board about where the cost savings in consolidation is found.
“If you don’t consolidate like schools, your only savings is maintenance and utilities,” she said. “The savings comes when you consolidate schools and (the students from one school) can be absorbed into another school without having to employ more teachers.”
When Chairman Vincent Rozier questioned why Taylor was talking about new construction, Taylor said it was his recommendation, given the public’s response to the efforts to consolidate thus far.
“I think we need new facilities,” agreed board member Alan West. “I really do. Companies (thinking about coming to the county) take a look at our (school) facilities and don’t want to come. They go … where they have nice, new facilities for their children.”
When financing was questioned, Taylor directed his response to the guests assembled — as he had throughout the night — and said, “We have to ask as a taxpayer if we want to make that kind of investment in children, and I’m willing to do that.”
The board agreed to ask the county commissioners to call a special meeting to ascertain their position on taking on additional debt for new construction. After that, the school board will hold community forums in each community where a school is being considered for closure.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.