By: Erin Smith
ELIZABETHTOWN – The Bladen County Board of Education will be discussing potential dates for a public hearing regarding the proposed consolidation of Clarkton School of Discovery, Booker T. Washington, and Plain View Primary.
According to a document released by Bladen County Schools regarding the proposed consolidation of Booker. T Washington, Clarkton School of Discovery and Plain View Primary, the district will save about $690,000 by closing Booker T. Washington; Plain View Primary will save about $309,953 and Clarkton School of Discovery would save about $877,220 for a total of about $1,877,173.
“The North Carolina General Statutes govern the process that Boards of Education must
follow in order to consider closing schools. Additionally, a procedural guide has also
been developed to assist districts in completing the process,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor.
In the document Taylor said the process being utilized for consolidation has been developed over a number of years in an attempt to address budget needs, programming needs and facility needs.
“These efforts began in 2012 as the District sought avenues to construct new school buildings. The advanced age of schools caused the Board and Superintendent to examine the best way to address aging facilities, and initially held conversations with Shuller, Ferris, Lindstrom & Associates Architect firm. This conversation explored the idea of lease options for new school construction,” said Taylor.
He added that it was determined the lease idea was not a viable option and the district chose to meet with the 21st Century Facilities Committee in 2013-14 to discuss the schools and what options were available.
According to the document, the 21st Centuries Committee related that the county was not in a position to construct new schools and recommended the Board of Education look at maintaining the buildings until 2021 when the school bonds on the high schools will be retired.
In the document, Taylor said that with that in mind the board began to create a plan but with declining student enrollment, the board has been strongly encouraged to consider reducing the number of buildings it is responsible for maintaining.
“We would like to have more money for buildings. Maintaining buildings is not the problem. Our problem is providing for personnel. The state only sends funds based on the number of students not the number of schools,” said Taylor.
Taylor explained the NC Department of Public Instruction uses a formulary that includes the enrollment number of students to determine how much funding each LEA (local education authority) will receive from the state. The more the enrollment declines, the more it impacts the results of the formulary, said Taylor.
Student enrollment numbers have steadily declined since 2004-05.
According to figures provided by Bladen County Schools, enrollment in 2004-05 academic year was about 5,700 students. The figures for 2014-15 show the enrollment is 4,667 students a decrease of about 18 percent. During the same period, the district has closed one school –the School of Extended Hope.
According to figures supplied by Bladen County Schools, enrollment at each of the schools proposed for consolidation is as follows:
–Plain View Primary has an enrollment of 203 students;
–Booker T. Washington Primary School has an enrollment of 222 students;
–Clarkton School of Discovery has an enrollment of 274 students.
According to numbers supplies by Bladen County Schools, the consolidation of these schools would result in the need for extra classroom space at Dublin and Bladen Lakes School. A modular unit consisting of eight classrooms, bathrooms, janitorial space and office space would cost about $378,000 per unit depending on the size, the type of siding and other materials used in construction.
There is also a need for cafeteria space to be increased at Elizabethtown Primary, Bladenboro Primary, and Dublin Primary. Dublin is identified as needing a kitchen expansion while Bladenboro Primary would need a cafeteria line and Elizabethtown Primary would need an overall expansion of the cafeteria. According to the consolidation document, “Depending on the options chosen prices can vary from a line addition of approximately $15,000 to $20,000 or a cafeteria expansion/addition (depending on the kind) ranging from $150,000 to $400,000.”
Other issues facing the school system are a proposed new charter school.
“The first year a charter school opens is the most unpredictable,” said Taylor.
He said the enrollment at a new charter school in the first year can either be quite large or it can be small.
Taylor said, “If we consolidate and a new charter school is approved, it would not be as bad because we already made a decision to consolidate.”
Taylor said the best case scenario for the district would be for the board to move forward with consolidation, and a new charter school opens with a small enrollment.
He added the final decision on consolidation is still up to the board. Taylor emphasized nothing is finalized regarding consolidation.
“The only thing the board is doing is meeting its statutory obligations,” said Taylor.
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