By: Bethany Stephens
The Board of Education met for their monthly session this Monday with several concerned citizens present, and several addressed the board with their concerns. Sabrina Murchison of Clarkton addressed the board first. The Board limited each citizen five minutes to address them, but Murchison said that the board’s policy does not mention the five minute limitation. Ophelia Munn-Goins, Board Chair, disagreed and said it was in the policy later on during the meeting.
Murchison expressed concern about busing times and presented several numbers outlining how many students from each school attended the county’s high schools – especially students at East Arcadia because Murchison explained that Booker T. Washington Primary and Clarkton School of Discovery (two of the schools they are considering closing) send many more students to the high schools than East Arcadia does (a school they are proposing to keep partially intact). As Murchison was beginning to tell the board and community members the figures of various central office employees’ salaries and the specifics of how the budget for district office employees exceed what is budgeted for those positions, she was cut off for exceeding the five minute allotment.
Vanessa McBee of Hollow Township addressed the board next. Among several concerns, McBee expressed reservations about closing Plain View Primary, a school that serves families in the same area as two of the county’s largest employers – Dupont and Smithfield Packing. She explained that taking all of the schools out of that end of the county instead of building or repairing a school in the area would possibly deter people who are overflowing out of Cumberland County, Gray’s Creek, and the military bases from moving to Bladen – families that could help build Bladen County’s tax base and increase student enrollment. She also wondered why, with as many apparent budget limitations as there are, the board and commissioners recently approved major roof and air conditioning repairs at Elizabethtown Middle (which she feels the board favors) instead of making repairs across the county.
Because Sadie Perry and Phyllis Miller, both of Clarkton, had requested to address the board on the same form, both Perry and Miller were limited to two and a half minutes each though they had been under the impression that they would each get five minutes apiece. Perry and Miller both spoke of the same concerns about possible school consolidations. Perry relayed what the County Commissioners have been recently saying. When asked if the commissioners had formally or informally instructed the Board of Education to close the three schools or if they had assured the Board of Education that funds needed for consolation would be provided, the commissioners said no.
Joyce Graham and Jennifer McMillan addressed the board on behalf of Plain View Primary. Graham quoted her former teacher that told her, “Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” She entreated the board to follow this motto. Additionally, she compared moving students out of their home districts to moving an Alzheimer’s patient from their home; though they may get the same care they don’t thrive as well after they are taken away from home.
Before the above community members addressed the board with their concerns, Nykel Mullins from Riegelwood was presented her high school diploma as she was a summer graduate. Four awards from Seven Oaks Custodial Services were presented to schools’ custodial staffs that were especially well taken care of. Bladenboro Primary, Elizabethtown Primary, Plain View Primary, and West Bladen High School were all presented this award. Attendance banners were presented, and Booker T. Washington Primary won in the elementary school division; Clarkton School of Discovery won in the middle school division, and East Bladen High School won in the high school division.
Sharon Penny, Finance Director, gave the the board a financial summary for information purposes only. Because of the state only recently settling on a budget, the county’s tentative budget for the current school year is $400,000 over. To help offset this, the board later approved to cut one clerical position from each of the county’s two high schools.
Valerie Newton, Public Relations, gave the board an update on Golden Leaf STEM, and Tanya Head, Assistant Superintendent, explained to the board action plans that are being formulated to address the county’s 9 of 13 schools labeled as low performing schools.
Five fundraiser requests and Title 1 Parent Involvement Plans were approved. Though some board members expressed concern about the naming of the press box and media booth at East Bladen High School, they approved that it be named after people already suggested. A $40 fee for eligible students to take drivers education was approved. The fee would have been $65, but the county is covering the difference via local funds.
Per Superintendent Robert Taylor’s recommendation, the board chose to postpone public hearing dates concerning possible school consolidations. A one time bonus for $750 was approved to be dispersed to eligible teachers on December 4th. The Board later voted Hayes Petteway and Pam Benton to serve on the Bladen Community College Board of Trustees.
After a closed session to discuss legal matters and personnel, the board chose Gary Rhoda, Vinston Rozier, and Tim Benton to represent them as voting delegates at the North Carolina School Board Association Annual Conference.
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