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Opinion of Clarkton community member about proposed school closings in Bladen County

By: Phyllis Miller of Clarkton

Understanding that our county is identified as a high poverty, economically depressed county and with known budget restraints, we do need to look at how we can cut costs and what can be done to keep our best community schools open. I hope that all the citizens of Bladen County will make an effort toward understanding that the county must do something but not what has been laid out at the Board of Education. I think it is ludicrous to even think that we should close all the schools in Clarkton. Combining the highest performing middle school (Clarkton School of Discovery) in the county with Booker T. Washington and leaving Project Challenge in Clarkton is a better plan than anything I have seen on the proposal. Closing both of these schools in Clarkton is not the way to handle the issues at hand.

Think about this!! Why would you close a school that is excelling in every way: academically, arts/drama, sports, county recognition, state recognition, and national programs. CSD continues to rank at the top of the scores in the county. The school is located in a safe area of the community and the children along with the parents are very comfortable when they drop their children off and go on to work, etc. The teachers in CSD are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for the students to succeed and strive to do their best in all areas of their curriculum. If you are on Facebook, check out what CSD did today for “See You at the Pole.” Awesome, absolutely awesome!!!

Another thing to think about is that if the two schools close in Clarkton, property valuations will drop drastically. If you have a home or commercial property that is worth $200,000, you may be surprised by just how much your property’s value will drop if both schools are closed. Who would want to buy a house in a town or area that does not have a school? As a result, the tax base of the town will plummet hurting the county budget and crippling the town of Clarkton budget. Less county revenue means less revenue for education.

In the next few months, we will be looking for a minister to fill a position in our church. What will we say when they ask us about our schools? Do we say, “we have the highest performing middle school in the county right now, but, oh, they are going to close it and there will not be a school in this town for your children.” Our second comment then will be, oh, but “we do have a Charter School eight miles away in the neighboring county that is performing well.” I could not understand how the County Board of Commissioners could think that this would be the right thing to do. So I attended their meeting this week. They apologized and said that the commissioners did not have anything to do with the School Board closing the schools. I believe them, but I do wonder why Dr. Taylor told the Adhoc Committee at their September 1, 2015 meeting that the county commissioners have agreed to “pay for the cost to consolidate.” The quote is in the minutes on the Board of Education web site. Check it out. How do they agree to pay the costs if they have no role in the decision or are unaware of the plan. I doubt the board of commisioners are writing blank checks to close community schools, so why was it said in the meeting.

The board of education (Adhoc Committee) needs to “fall back and punt.” They need to undertake a real study of the best ways to save money and provide a quality education for our children. The board was very cooperative in providing information that I requested, but it appears that all they did was produce a report that supported Dr. Taylor’s plan and proposal for the consolidation or closing of three schools in the county. So far, I haven’t seen facts or numbers that demonstrate a need to close the highest performing middle school in the county. Don’t think that should happen. I never saw any discussion or facts about closing schools other than these. You have to wonder what they really looked at, if anything, in preparing this plan. Did the Adhoc committee tell Dr. Taylor what they wanted to see happen and for him to complete a proposal that would close CSD, Plain View, and BTW, and they would support his plan. Did the Adhoc Committee actually review facts, statistics and crunch numbers? I doubt it!! If they did, I will be the first to apologize. I would love to see something in writing that actually came from or went to the Adhoc Committee that looked at the positives and negatives of closing different schools. I challenge you to talk to the school board members and let them know your opinion of their “bad decisions.”

If you are not in the communities and think you will not be affected, you may want to inquire about what is planned in Phase II and III of Dr. Taylor’s plan. Phase II and III of the consolidation plan call for having only two middle schools in the entire county utilizing the current East Bladen and West Bladen campuses. It also calls for ONE new high school for the fourth largest county in the state at a cost of “$45-50 million”, and making the current Elizabethtown Middle School a new Central Office and convention center which may cost millions more by the 2017-2021 time frame. Is the current central office not big enough or are they planning to further expand the board of education staff significantly? YOUR community is next! It looks like the plan is to spend tens of millions to save hundreds of thousands or millions. I thought the federal government had backwards accounting??

Please make your own analysis of this situation. All of the information I have conveyed was provided by the board of education. You can get it too. Let’s hope that during their community forums, they think this thing out more and develop different and better plans. We voted them in, but decisions like these will lead us to vote out members that support such ill-conceived plans. Unfortunately, if the current group continues to railroad our communities with these plans it may be too late to save our education system.

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