OUR VIEW: Consolidation needs to be discussed

Published 4:50 pm Friday, July 12, 2019

It is time for Stanly County to have a calm, emotion-free conversation about consolidating schools.

The topic is being discussed by Albemarle’s city leaders and is a constant talking point when any news about the school system comes up.

How such a conversation is going to happen with the current school board is a big question mark.

The voters sent two diametrically opposing messages last November by electing a school board who ran on a platform of not closing or consolidating schools, and a county commission that has made it clear they are not raising taxes. The two are wonderful, emotion-filled ideas. No one wants to see their neighborhood school closed. No one wants to have their taxes increased. It likely felt good for voters to fill in the circle of the candidates touting those messages.

The result is a future that is potentially unsustainable for the school system.

The neighborhood school system can remain in place. It’s just going to cost money. That would likely mean an increase in taxes, which no one seems willing to support.

The school board has already, perhaps unwittingly, made a great case for consolidation. After submitting a dream budget saying they needed $23 million from the county after operating on a $13 million contribution the previous year, they took the county’s offer of $15 million while saying they were $2.5 million short of what they needed and would have to eliminate more than 30 teaching positions. The board also submitted a facilities plan detailing more than $34 million in needs over the next decade for 20 county school facilities.

These two items make a great argument that the consolidation discussion needs to be happening now.

This issue needs to move off the Facebook comments section and onto the agenda of the county commissioners and the school board. There are plenty of examples nearby to take a look at and determine how to begin a process to determine if consolidation is the right answer for Stanly County. Rowan County schools are currently going through the process. Montgomery County opens a new high school in the fall of 2020, putting their two high schools into one. Robeson County is also discussing consolidation possibilities.

We need a process. We need facts. We need leadership on this issue to guide the school system in the right direction to do what is best for our children and the taxpayers.