Board puts consolidation on hold

ELIZABETHTOWN — The issue of school consolidation bubbled back to the surface of the Bladen County Board of Education’s agenda on Monday, but the direction it took wasn’t what was expected.

Superintendent Robert Taylor explained to the board that he had been in contact with the School Planning Division of the state’s Department of Public Instruction for assistance in looking at the potential for making school closures in the near future.

“Any time you look at potential changes, it has a direct effect on the community, and we’ve heard from the community already,” Taylor said. “So getting the input from the School Planning Division will give us a clearer picture for where we need to go.”

At that time, Taylor asked for any questions or comments from the board — and he got it in the form of a motion that turned the school consolidation issue upside down.

“I move that the superintendent contact the DPI’s School Planning Division to review school data relevant to school reorganization in Bladen County, that no consolidation take place during the 2016-17 school year, and that the Board take no action on future consolidation until DPI’s School Planning Division recommendations and other relevant data sources have been reviewed,” said Board member Bonnell Walker.

Walker’s motion was seconded and passed unanimously by the board.

Phyllis Miller, a vocal opponent of the school consolidation plan being promoted by the board — which would have seen the closing of Clarkton School of Discovery, Booker T. Washington and Plain View — said she wasn’t all that surprised by the board’s vote.

“Not surprised at all, because they hadn’t done their proper recording and didn’t make a clear and conscientious decision,” she said. “Just as we’ve said all along, this was all done too quickly — and we think the state’s involvement will point out some different options.”

Sadie Perry, another opponent to the proposal, agreed.

“I’m happy it’s off the table for next year, but disappointed it’s still on the table at all,” she said. “Even thinking about closing a school with a history of success (Clarkton School of Discovery) makes no sense at all.”

In other board action on Monday:

— Recognized the local teacher assistants of the year, which included Rose Burgess of Bladen Lakes Primary, Gail Hester of Bladenboro Primary, Lois Neill of Boor T. Washington Primary, Cindy Rankin of Dublin Primary, Jane Sykes of Elizabethtown Middle, Kristy Smith of Elizabethtown Primary and Jennifer McMillan of Plain View Primary. Each will not compete at the state’s Teacher Assistant of the Year level.

“The work they do today is vastly different than they did years ago,” Taylor said. “There is a lot of training and certification necessary.”

— Recognized Lanae Fishburn, a second-grader at East Arcadia School, with the Random Act of Kindness Award. Fishburn took a class trip last month to Independence Mall in Wilmington to visit with Santa and, when she was asked what she wanted for Christmas, didn’t ask for something for herself but for school supplies for her class. Santa thought so much of Fishburn’s request, that he had several boxes of school supplies delivered to the class.

— Heard from a representative with Anderson, Smith and White accounting firm that the school’s June 2015 audit report was “clean and unmodified” with no adjustments necessary or budget violations found. The board was also told that its General Fund had grown by $21,000 to $178,000 in the previous budget year.

— A representative of the DPI School Transformation Team told the board that it will be focusing its efforts on Elizabethtown Middle in an effort to pull up the school’s low performance rating. It is one of 75 low-performing schools state wide the team will be focusing on.

— Recognized schools with the best attendance during the month of December: Booker T. Washington in the Elementary School Division with 95.22 percent attendance; Clarkton School of Discovery in the Middle School Division with 95.72 percent; and West Bladen in the High School Division with 93.91 percent.

— Heard from Taylor that he will be initiating a discussion with Bladen Community College about an Early College Program. He said the best opportunity for the program to start would be August 2018.

— Taylor recognized the board members as part of National School Board Appreciation Month. The members were each given gift baskets containing items from each of the county’s 13 schools. Taylor also gave special recognition to previous Chairman Ophelia Munn-Goins and Vice-Chairman Alan West.

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