ELIZABETHTOWN —The Bladen County Board of Education voted 5-4 to move forward with the next phase of a recommended consolidation plan for the school system. Those voting against the measure were board members Gary Rhoda, Tim Benton, Wilbur Smith and Dennis Edwards.
A crowd that flowed out into the parking at the Bladen County Board of Education meeting forced a last minute change of venue from the public meeting room at the board of education building to the gymnasium at the Elizabethtown Middle School located across the street. Parents, teachers, staff and concerned members of the community gathered en mass in a show of solidarity for their respective schools.
The consolidation recommended by an ad hoc committee that consisted of board Chairman Ophelia Munn-Goins, and board members Alan West, Rhoda, and Roger Carroll, include the following:
—Plain View Primary School be consolidated with Dublin Primary School;
—Booker T. Washington School Primary School be consolidated with Bladenboro Primary and East Arcadia School;
— East Arcadia Middle School students to be moved to Elizabethtown Middle School;
— Clarkton School of discovery be consolidated with Elizabethtown Middle School and Bladenboro Middle School;
—Project Challenge students be relocated to Elizabethtown Middle School;
— and application students at Clarkton School of Discovery be returned to their home school.
The ad hoc committee also recommended a time table for the consolidation plan to take place. The time table is as follows:
— October and November there will be public forums held in the affected communities.
— September through December identify costs and construction time lines for facility upgrades, bus routes and attendance lines.
—January 2016, finalize/approve facility upgrades;
—January through July 2016, begin facility upgrades;
— March finalize student assignments and begin sending parent notifications.
— April notify Department of Public Instruction of school closures
— July complete consolidation.
— August new school year begins with 10 remaining schools.
—August through December continue with facility shut down/repurposing.
The ad hoc committee also identified areas where upgrades would be required for the consolidation process. They are the need for classroom addition to Dublin Primary School. the construction of a modular unit will cost $378,000. Additionally there will be the expansion of the parking area for buses and staff will be necessary for Dublin and the expansion of cafeteria lines will be needed at Dublin Primary School and Bladenboro Primary School.
Joseph Rozier Jr., president of the Hollow Township Community Action Committee, addressed the board.
“Children in my community have to go to school in a building with ceiling tiles falling in,” said Rozier.
He asked the board to consider the age of schools such as Bladenboro and Tar Heel. Rozier told the board that Plain View School is in the condition it is because of neglect.
“I was disappointed when I looked at the agenda. I hoped that consolidation would be discussed before my talking to you,” said Rozier.
He stated that he would have liked to heard the board’s plans and their reasoning before he addressed them.
Diane Townsend has two great-grandchildren who reside with her and attend Plain View School. While she did not sign up to speak, she was at the meeting Monday to hear what will happen in the future with the school.
“It will be really rough because two times per week I’m taking these children for speech in Lumberton,” said Townsend.
She said they get on the bus at 6:30 a.m. just to get to Plain View School.
“It is rough on little kids,” said Townsend.
Brenda Clark also signed up to address the board about matters of concern to her as well. Clark told the board that she was following up on concerns she expressed during the June 8 meeting regarding her grandson.
She noted that there was a report that noted SAT scores in Bladen County had dropped 20 points.
“We want to bring businesses to Bladen County. We are not going anywhere with this kind of publicity,” said Clark.
Clark also told the board to think about where the teachers will go and the staff will go if the schools are closed.
She reminded the board they had told folks that if a school closed students will be attending school in their area and Clark asked what area would that be? She also encouraged those in attendance to research the NC Lottery funds and to see where the lottery funding goes.
After further discussion later in the meeting, the board addressed the folks in attendance.
Superintendent Robert Taylor told those in attendance that the plan is a recommendation to the board and there are other statutory requirements that must be met before a school can be closed. Taylor said one of the requirements is to schedule and hold a public forums during which members of the community can attend and voice their concerns and ask questions.
The board will now move forward to the next phase of the consolidation and set times and locations for the community forums that will be announced later.
—Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.