TAR HEEL — Any consolidation plans for the Bladen County schools will be put off another year, according to Superintendent Robert Taylor.
There was a packed house at Tar Heel Middle School last night, when the Bladen County Board of Education held the first of four community forums (click here for video of consolidation plan summary) regarding consolidation. Around 150 teachers, parents, students, and other interested residents filled every available chair in Tar Heel’s media center. Board members present included Chairman Vincent Rozier and members Dennis Edwards, Roger Carroll, Gary Rhoda, Glenn McKoy, and Chris Clark. Representatives from the Transportation Department and the Facilities Department were also on hand to answer questions, and most, if not all, of the central office personnel were present. Two sheriff’s deputies also oversaw the gathering.
Despite the close quarters and accompanying warm temperatures, things remained relatively calm throughout the 90-minute gathering.
“I think it went very well,” said Asst. Superintendent Tanya Head. “Everybody was very polite and courteous.”
When guests arrived, each was asked to sign in and was given a 3×5 index card on which to write questions. When the meeting started, cards were passed to the end of each row and collected. Superintendent Robert Taylor began a 30-minute prepared presentation, beginning with previous efforts to address issues facing the system.
“We’ve been getting pushback from the county commissioners saying, ‘If you have too many schools and not enough students, we expect you to do something about it’,” Taylor said.
He highlighted the age of existing structures, some of which date back to the 1910s, and the number of students at each school, laying out the problem facing the system. Since the state funds one teacher for every 18 students, if a school system had 42 students, Taylor said, it would be allotted two teachers. If those 42 students were spread around three schools, with 14 students at each school, the system would need additional local funding for the third teacher. Consolidating the three schools into two would eliminate the need for a third teacher, with educators at two schools each having 21 students.
Guests also learned that any plans for consolidation will not be implemented until the fall of 2018.
“To plan transportation and student assignment and to try and do that in two to three months would be a disservice to our students,” informed Taylor.
Throughout the presentation, Taylor made mention of the rising costs of construction. When East Bladen and West Bladen were constructed in 2001, the cost to the system was $36 million. Today, one K-8 school for 600 students would cost $26 million.
“We’d jump at that in a heartbeat, to get two schools at that cost ($36 million),” commented Taylor. “It’s critical we make decisions now, because the price will only increase. If we can’t afford it now, we can afford it even less in the future.”
After Taylor finished his presentation, the questions on the cards were read aloud by the principals of Plain View and Tar Heel Middle.
“How can anyone justify leaving the entire western portion of the county without a school?” questioned one guest. Taylor responded by saying the Cape Fear River divides the county basically in half, and there are 12 schools on the western side and one on the eastern.
When another guest asked about the timeline, Taylor informed the gathering that the school board is effectively at the mercy of the county commissioners. Since facilities are the responsibility and property of local governments, county commissioners could exercise options like raising property taxes or putting a bond referendum before the county.
Regarding the latter, one guest asked how the sales tax, which has been turned down five times, could be promoted.
“One thing I’ll tell you is that if we’re going to have quality schools, it requires that we make an investment in our children,” said Taylor. “An investment is putting money down for a benefit later. I believe our children are a good investment.”
At least one guest was glad she came.
“You just hear so much misinformation from other people, and I wanted to hear it straight from them,” said Sonya Smith. “I think I understand it better now.”
The next community form will be held Tuesday, May 2 at Clarkton School of Discovery at 6 p.m.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.