School board hits snag with school consolidation efforts

W. Curt Vincent -

ELIZABETHTOWN — At a meeting of the Bladen County Board of Education where three residents spoke about concerns with the potential consolidation of schools plan, along with an extensive discussion about how the board has come to the conclusion that consolidation of schools is necessary from Supt. Robert Taylor, the next step by the board — scheduling a series of public hearings on the matter — could not be taken because board members would not second any of the motions made Monday evening.

Earlier in the meeting, Phyllis Miller spoke to the board about how the process has led the board to propose closing Clarkton School of Discovery, Booker T Washington and Plain View.

“How do you know these three schools would give you the biggest bang for your buck?” she asked. “Have you looked at any other schools? If the plan is ultimately approved, numerous folks will campaign for a charter school.”

Sabrina Murchison used her time to question how the ad hoc committee was formed, along with the salaries at the Central Office. She also told the crowd gathered that people should pay close attention to what board members vote for closing the schools, and which ones are up for re-election in 2016.

And finally, Sadie Perry discussed the fact that Clarkton School of Discovery and Booker T Washington have been part of the A+ Schools program since its inception in 1995 — two of only 50 schools in the state — as that “they have both been a shining light in this county.”

During his report, Taylor discussed the fact that the board has considered a number of possible consolidation plans and have yet to finalize any specific direction.

“The board has done all the hand-wringing and conversing to find a way to fund our 13 schools over the past few years,” he said. “We’ve been told the enrollment in Bladen County has been declining and will continue to do so. It’s the same in all of the state’s rural areas.”

Taylor said that, since 2005, Bladen County Schools has lost 1,030 students.

“In light of where we are, tough decisions have to be made,” Taylor added. “I know this board would rather not have to consolidate schools.”

He added some of the areas the board has used to determine a consolidation plan included geographic, enrollment, cost of transportation, school capacity/upgrades, hardships created for students and others.

Taylor also said the closing of Clarkton School of Discovery, Booker T Washington and Plain View — if that’s the plan the board chose — would save the district about $1.8 million, which could be used to enhance programs at the remaining 10 schools.

The board then did some more hand-wringing when it came time to decide dates for public hearings on the issue. A motion was made to use November and December dates, but the motion died for lack of a second.

The board began looking at January dates, but Board Vice Chairman Alan West then stated that he was concerned with holding a series of public hearings when the board, community and the county commissioners were all so divided on the issue.

“I don’t want everyone to go through all this when we’re all so divided,” he said. “And we don’t know if we close Booker T and Clarkton School of Discovery that a charter school won’t come in and take 400 or 500 students.

“I just can’t see supporting what we have in front of us now as it stand,” he added.

A motion was made to hold public hearings on Jan. 7, 12, 14, 19, 21 and 26 with Jan. 28 as an alternate — but that motion also died for a lack of second and the board moved on without a decision.

In other action:

— The board recognized Wanda Everett for her 24 years of service to Bladen County Schools, the last 14 as administrative assistant to the superintendent. Everett, who received accolades from each board member and Taylor, is retiring and her last day is Friday.

— The board recognized each of the cafeteria staffs at the 13 schools for being deemed “Golden A” cafeterias.

— The board gave attendance banners for November to Booker T Washington, Clarkton School of Discovery and West Bladen High.

— The board approved the final budget resolution for 2015-16. Finance Officer Sharon Penny said there was Title I and Title II monies used to make up a $600 deficit, and that cuts will need to be made for 2016-17. Board members Wilbur Smith and Tim Benton were the only no votes.

— Assistant Superintendent Tanya Head presented the 2015-16 School Improvement Plans as constructed by the 13 school principals. Smith said, “I appreciate all the time principals and their teams put into these plans, but I’d like to know how these plans have worked and impacted the schools.” In the end, the plans were approved by the board.

— The board also approved the district’s Low Performance Plan as presented by Taylor, who said the district has nine schools deemed low performance but that the state “has responded favorably to our plan.”

The next meeting of the school board is Dec. 14 at 6 p.m.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

W. Curt Vincent

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