The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

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April 19, 2014

School Board refuses idea of consolidating schools

Saturday, April 19, 2014 — The Stanly County Board of Education refuses to consider closing or consolidating schools.

If Tuesday night’s joint meeting between the boards of education and commissioners revealed anything, it’s that school leaders do not want to close or consolidate schools. Such a move would call for redistricting.

“Sometimes redistricting and consolidation does not save money,” school board member Mike Barbee said.

“You end up spending more money on transportation for moving kids.”

Commissioner Peter Asciutto broached the subject when he pointed out that enrollment data as of March 20 shows Stanly’s schools are below capacity, including 10 of its 19 facilities below 70 percent capacity and five below 60 percent.

“The numbers are pretty obvious,” Asciutto said, suggesting that the school system should consider closures and consolidation as a way to save taxpayers money.

By closing schools the system could reduce its $73 million annual operating budget as well as stave off capital costs since many of the facilities need upgrades. Consolidation would also reduce personnel.

But school officials countered that there are other dire consequences.

School board member Melvin Poole called consolidation a “drastic move,” adding that it is seldom wise to follow trends that might lead to costs later.

“When you start consolidating, you need to look at all the peas in the pod,” Poole said.

He pointed to the controversy in neighboring Union County where school officials have implemented redistricting efforts. Impacted residents are threatening legal action amid complaints that the move will adversely affect property values while forcing their children out of their neighborhood schools.

Poole also reminded commissioners Union’s redistricting has voters attempting to remove school board members from office.

Asciutto was quick to say elected officials should not be influenced by such threats.

Commission Vice Chairman Lindsey Dunevant said voters frequently demand that county leaders spend taxpayers’ money efficiently.

Dunevant nearly stirred up another sensitive issue when he posed the question, “Do we have a good school system?”

He said his question was intended to be more rhetorical and directed at promoting economic development.  

A few school board members took exception to the question.

Todd Swaringen emphasized that academic data indicates that Stanly County Schools is a successful system.

Instead, he urged county leaders to focus on what the schools need to be more successful.

“The problem that I see is that we want our students in class and our teachers to teach,” Swaringen said.

“We need more support staff in place.”

Poole added that it is typically industry that poses the most inconsistency in terms of relying on local education.

“Our schools have been good enough to support industry,” Poole said, adding that industry spurns communities for various reasons other than education.

Commissioner Josh Morton said the best way to promote economic development and appeal to potential industry is for the two boards to continue a positive relationship and one with a common goal.

Tuesday’s joint meeting was planned as a precursor to formal budget talks between the two boards. Superintendent Terry Griffin said she plans to take recommendations and a needs assessment to the schools’ finance committee by April 29.

Griffin will present a budget to the commission on May 19.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynewspress. com.

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