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OUR VIEW: School consolidation is already happening

While the debate about consolidation continues, one thing is clear — the Stanly County school system is consolidating.

No buildings are closing, no names are changing and no earth for new facilities is being moved — yet. But three factors show the school system is struggling with a shrinking enrollment over a large number of properties.

First, the school system recently made the decision to begin staggered start times in elementary schools. This is in response to a lack of bus drivers. The change allows drivers to run more than one route per day. Instead of the system needing 86 bus drivers, only 66 are required. The cost savings is estimated to be $300,000. That’s consolidation.

This year, 45 students will begin their day at one high school and then be bused to another high school to take other classes. Instead of putting all the classes needed under one roof, the system is requiring more and more students to take daily trips to satisfy course needs. The school system is moving students together, not buildings. That’s consolidation.

The same is true with teachers. A number of teachers begin their day at one school and then take their lessons on the road to a different school. Instead of hiring teachers to fill all the positions in all the schools, some teacher sharing is going on. That’s also consolidation.

These smaller consolidation efforts will likely continue until it is obvious to everyone that four high schools, four middle schools and 11 elementary schools in a county with a total student population of less than 8,500 students is no longer an efficient, productive method to educate our children.

At that point the school system will need a plan.

A good starting point would be to consider Albemarle City Councilman Chris Bramlett’s proposal in a letter to the editor on this page. The beauty of his restructuring proposal is the lack of upfront expense.

Building two new high schools, or even one new high school, would be great, but it is a non-starter.

The upfront costs to the taxpayer outweigh the benefits and delay the consolidation process. Bramlett’s plan is simple. Use existing facilities, redraw the boundaries and do it fast.

Given the coming changes in virtual education and high school sports in the next decade, this is not the time to invest in bricks and mortar.

It’s a good plan to consider for a school board that has been asking for a plan. Whether or not it will receive serious consideration remains to be seen.