Bladen County Board of Education approves school closure

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN — A Bladen County school will be closing its doors before the next academic year.

Monday evening, the Bladen County Board of Education, as part of its ongoing consolidation efforts, voted 4-3 to close Booker T. Washington School.

“We know we have to do something … ” began Board of Education Chairman Vincent Rozier. “… since the 2010 or 2011 school year, we have lost approximately 800 students … we have a situation, community, that we have to deal with … I wish we could turn back the hands of time and find money like there was in the 90s, but it’s just not here any more.”

Voting in favor of the plan were Dennis Edwards, Chris Clark, Berry Lewis, and Roger Carroll. Glenn McKoy, Gary Rhoda, and Tim Benton voted against the motion. Alan West was not present.

Under the plan, BTW fifth-grade students will be assigned to Clarkton School of Discovery, and K-4 students will be reassigned to Bladenboro Primary, Elizabethtown Primary, or East Arcadia School.

Everything west of the Brown Marsh area around Clarkton that was previously in the BTW attendance region will now be in the Bladenboro Primary area. Bladenboro Primary’s enrollment will be 358, plus the addition of 54 pre-K students in a new program at the site.

East Arcadia’s region remains largely the same, but the school will undergo some changes. East Arcadia students in grades 5-8 who live east of the Cape Fear River will be reassigned to Elizabethtown Middle, while those west of the Cape Fear River will attend Clarkton School of Discovery. The region for K-4 students will still be the area south of N.C. 211. The enrollment for East Arcadia will be 112 students, or 120 with the pre-K program.

Elizabethtown Primary’s boundaries will extend to N.C. 211 to encompass those K-4 students previously at Booker T. Washington. Its new enrollment will be roughly 478, or 538 when pre-K is included.

With the addition of Booker T. Washington fifth graders and some East Arcadia middle school students, Clarkton School of Discovery’s enrollment will be 249 students.

Elizabethtown Middle School’s boundaries will extend to the Kelly area west of the Cape Fear River, an area previously served by East Arcadia. Its new enrollment will be 424 students.

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The discussion

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The Board spent significant time discussing the plan, a debate that turned heated at a couple of points. The opposition was mainly voiced by Rhoda.

“Did you discuss this in the forums?” he questioned Superintendent Robert Taylor.

“Yes,” responded the latter.

“No, you did not,” Rhoda countered, also claiming he did not receive the email outlining the agenda for Monday’s meeting until Monday morning. He questioned why information was being kept from him, when the plan involved his own district. District staff said the email had been sent to all board members, but said it would be investigated.

When McKoy questioned the impact of the new charter school, Taylor informed the Board that staff have been “working closely” with charter school staff to identify students who might attend when Emereau expands another grade for the upcoming year.

“We’ve adjusted for what will be this increase,” he told the Board.

Carroll voiced his concerns as well.

“One of the concerns I have … is to make sure that if this moves forward, there is adequate room in these schools to accommodate these children without having to move later,” he commented. “That would be devastating.”

“We certainly have concerns about Elizabethtown Primary and Bladenboro Primary,” Taylor responded. “They are the largest schools and have limited space.”

Taylor added any parents who exercises their right to other educational options will bring enrollment numbers down even more.

“What is a positive we can pinpoint tonight that would help the Clarkton community?” questioned McKoy. “How could they benefit from consolidation?”

“What I would say is the Board has received a tremendous amount of pressure to address facilities and declining enrollment,” Taylor answered. “We have been approached by the holders of the purse strings, so to speak, saying we were spending a lot of money to keep 13 schools open, when many in the community felt like enrollment didn’t justify 13 schools.

“This allows us to be more efficient in serving students in the remaining 12 buildings,” he added. “One of the positives is that Clarkton School of Discovery will still be in the community.

“What it comes down to is that to have 13 schools requires additional funding the state will not provide. The Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education are on the same sheet of music when it comes to needing more funding from Raleigh … They fund based on the entire enrollment, not on individual schools.”

District staff told the Board the Booker T. Washington building would be used as a training facility for district staff and they hoped at least a portion of it could be given to the community for use by alumni associations or for community events.

Rhoda again questioned why Project Challenge couldn’t be moved to Elizabethtown Middle.

“We’ve had this discussion before,” responded Taylor. “What I do is talk with the Board and come up with a plan …“

“This is what the Board wants,” interrupted Rhoda.

“I develop a plan, anything the Board wishes to do,” continued Taylor. “I get those directions from you guys. If you want to do something different, that’s what we’ll do. Of all the plans we’ve had in six or seven years … this is the only one that’s gotten support from the community.”

Earlier in the meeting, during the citizen participation portion, the Board heard from a representative from the Booker T. Washington community who urged the Board to delay the vote and try to find another alternative.

The plan as approved will take effect for the 2018/2019 school year.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal