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Only the strong survive

R-C News-Herald Editorial

The future is now for Bertie County Public Schools.

Later today (Tuesday), an independent company contracted by the Board of Education will publicly release the findings of a comprehensive facilities assessment of the district’s elementary and middle schools.

That presentation will be made at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium at Bertie High School.

If Bertie citizens, as witnessed by their attendance at an Oct. 24 meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners where an educational issue was debated, actually do care about the future of their public school system, then the high school gym should be packed to the rafters this evening.

At stake is the possible closing of at least one school, maybe more.

Since the assessment was ordered in June, the rumor mill has been chocked full of possible scenarios. This newspaper does not report rumors, but we have reached our own conclusion.

Basing our findings solely on the wording of how the individual schools will be assessed, we strongly feel that J.P. Law Elementary School will close. That school, among the oldest in the system, only lists 84 students. That is 16 students under the minimum required by North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for DPI to fund a principal’s position at the school.

Fortunately for Bertie Public Schools, that principal’s position is paid for by the state because J.P. Law employs at least seven teachers.

Closing J.P. Law will not create a strain on other facilities. If it is recommended for the school to close, students will be reassigned to Colerain and Windsor elementary schools, two of the newest facilities in the Bertie system.

However, what is not known is if there will be any additional Bertie schools on the chopping block.

Askewville and Aulander elementary schools are both “on the fence” in regards to age. Does either fall under the “economic feasibility and wisdom of renovating any facilities that are in poor condition; and strategic alternatives to the current assignment of students, including options designed to provide cost savings to the district,” as so worded in the assessment guidelines?

If those two are recommended for closure, students could be moved to Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor elementary schools. Additionally, the Southwestern Middle School facility will be empty upon the opening of the county’s new central middle school. Southwestern, in need of improvements, could be used as a centrally located elementary school, able to take in students from a broad area.

The bottom line is money. Closing one, two or three schools will obviously save a ton of money in operational expenses. In a rural county where every penny is critical, tough decisions have to be made for simple survival.

Those attending this evening’s announcement are urged to remain for the second part of a strategic planning process for the school system. The first meeting, a “Stakeholder’s Summit,” was held on Oct. 25 and included valuable input from Bertie County citizens.

Additional input is needed as the school system looks to the future, one that may or may not include three of its current facilities.