ELIZABETHTOWN — In the wake of the community forums conducted over the last two weeks, both the Bladen County Board of Education and the community are taking stock.
“I think the forums accomplished our task of informing the public of issues with facilities, how funding is provided by the state, the cost of facilities, and allowing the public to ask questions related to any of the topics discussed,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor. “Some argued against the format of the forum, but we’ve also had those that were very appreciative of the format. Many commented that they were uncomfortable asking questions publicly, and appreciated being able to write them down.”
A couple of tweaks were made as the forums progressed. At the first gathering at Tar Heel, board members sat facing Taylor and to the side of guests; at the remaining forums, board members sat in solidarity with their spokesperson — facing attendees. Additionally, at the first forum, guests wrote questions after the presentation by Taylor, but for the remaining forums, attendees were told they could submit a question in writing at any time.
“I understand why they did it that way, and I think it’s a good idea,” said Keith Croom, who attended the Clarkton forum.
“The format was to provide a level of order, to not answer the same kind of question multiple times,” said Taylor. “Overall, I think the public appreciated having the forums, and it provided them very good information on possibilities and limitations, as well as the actions they can take as citizens.”
The information must have hit home with at least some people, including school employees.
“I had no idea what all was involved in consolidation,” said Plain View Primary School cafeteria worker Sonya Smith, who attended the Tar Heel meeting. “I haven’t been able to understand anything up until this point, and there’s just so much conflicting information out there, which is why I came — I wanted to hear it directly from their lips.”
At issue now for the Board of Education is applying consolidation to its own makeup. Board member Gary Rhoda sat with attendees at two of the four forums and stood up both times to voice concerns over the format, the lack of a translator, and the overall plan of consolidation.
“I want to know if there will be other plans presented,” he said. “I don’t like this one.”
“Mr. Rhoda is absolutely right,” Taylor commented after the meeting. “There are a host of other plans we’ve considered, and I personally think there are better plans. What makes the most sense financially is closing Clarkton School of Discovery, but Clarkton has been very clear they don’t want that. This may not be the best option, but it’s one we can get the community to buy into.”
The forums started strong and gradually waned in attendance. Present for the Tar Heel forum were about 150 guests; by Clarkton the number had dropped to around 80; and a much smaller number of people turned out for each of the forums at East Arcadia and Elizabethtown Middle.
Board Chairman Vincent Rozier attended all four forums, as did board members Chris Clark, Gary Rhoda, and Glenn McKoy; Dennis Edwards and Roger Carroll were both in Tar Heel, Clarkton, and Elizabethtown; and Alan West attended the Clarkton forum. Neither Berry Lewis nor Tim Benton were present for any of the four forums.
The plan, first revealed at a combined county commissioner/Board of Education meeting in April, involves the following:
— Bladenboro Primary would get a multipurpose building at a cost of approximately $1 million.
— Bladen Lakes Primary would receive 114 students from Elizabethtown Primary. Its enrollment would change from 241 to 355, and the school would get a $500,000 classroom addition to accommodate the increase.
— Booker T. Washington would be closed. Ten kindergarten students, eight first-graders, nine second-graders, five third-graders, and six fourth-graders would relocate to East Arcadia. The remaining 114 students — 16 kindergartners, 22 first-graders, 22 second-graders, 23 third-graders, and 31 fourth-graders — would attend Elizabethtown Primary School.
— Clarkton School of Discovery would receive 47 students from East Arcadia and add fifth grade. Its enrollment would increase from 225 to 354.
— Dublin Primary: Three kindergartners, six first-graders, seven second-graders, four third-graders, and eight fourth-graders would attend a new K-8 school constructed in or near Tar Heel.
— East Arcadia would become a K-4 school only and would receive 38 students from BTW. 47 students — 10 fifth-graders, 13-sixth graders, 12 seventh-graders, and 12 eighth-graders — would attend Clarkton School of Discovery. Eight students — two each from fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades — would move to Elizabethtown Middle School. The enrollment would go from 126 to 111. The multipurpose building at East Arcadia would be upgraded.
— East Bladen High School would get a field house at a cost of $1.25 million.
— Elizabethtown Middle School would receive eight students from East Arcadia, which would increase its enrollment accordingly, to 450 students.
— Elizabethtown Primary School: EPT would receive 114 students from BTW, and 114 ETP students would begin attending Bladen Lakes Primary. A multipurpose building would be added to Elizabethtown Primary at a cost of approximately $1 million, and the cafeteria would be expanded.
— Plain View Primary would close and its 151 students would attend a new K-8 school constructed in or near Tar Heel.
— Tar Heel Middle School: All 295 Tar Heel Middle School students would attend a new K-8 school constructed in or near Tar Heel.
— West Bladen High School would get a field house at a cost of $1.25 million.
— New K-8 school near Tar Heel would receive 28 students from Dublin Primary, 151 students from Plain View Primary, and 295 students from Tar Heel Middle, for a total enrollment of 472 students.
The future for the consolidation plan depends largely on the budgets by the county commissioners and school board.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.