As a Bladen County resident, I have many concerns about the Board of Education’s plans regarding closing, consolidating, and building schools. Many people remember that we went through this about twenty years ago with high school consolidation.
At that time residents were promised that shiny new high schools would bring people into Bladen County, and that new businesses would locate here, bringing employees and new jobs for locals with them. We were promised that students would receive a better quality education, and that communities would “adjust” to the loss of their high schools. Some residents believed that businesses and people would flock into their area because of that new shiny high school nearby. Communities were assured by the BOE that losing our high schools wouldn’t affect us at all, because we would still have middle schools.
Those promised benefits never materialized. Bladen County’s population continues to decline, and while we do have some innovative job growth in the small business area, the only creator of a large number of jobs in the past many years is the Smithfield plant. Even a dynamic economic development director and shiny new schools cannot overcome Bladen County’s lack of needed infrastructure. Large businesses need water, sewer, gas, and access to railroads and major highways. They want low tax rates as well, and businesses locate where they can get what they need and want.
As an example, consider St. Pauls in Robeson County, only eight miles from the Bladen County line. Just last month Sanderson Foods opened a facility with 1000 new jobs in addition to the management staff who transferred in with the company. Construction is just beginning on a Pepsi facility that will bring about 250 more jobs, and a third company is in town negotiating the purchase of property for a new manufacturing facility. Another local company is undergoing an expansion to create about 50 new jobs. Proposals are being submitted for at least one new hotel and restaurant. Plans for a new housing development have been put before the zoning board.
There are three schools in St. Pauls, all of them old and overcrowded. There have been only two new schools built in Robeson a County in the last 30 years, and both of them are older that our own Bladen County high schools. But St. Pauls has direct access to I-95 and railway, sewer, water, and natural gas lines. Robeson County also has a lower tax rate than Bladen County does now, thanks to our beautiful new jail.
The promises of a better education, increased population, and new industries didn’t come after the last consolidation, and they won’t happen this time either. I hope the BCBOE will carefully consider the effects of this plan.
It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. In this case we seem to be determined to continue on the same consolidation road but somehow expect to arrive at a different place than we did before. We won’t.