Northampton to merge two high schools

Published 8:48 pm Monday, December 5, 2011

JACKSON – Northampton County’s two high schools will consolidate into one by the start of the 2012-13 school year.

On Monday night, the Northampton County Board of Education, in two separate motions, decided to merge the two high schools and base the single facility in the Creeksville precinct, more specifically at Northampton County High School-East.

The decision came after board members discussed the topic at a Nov. 21 work session. Though the consensus among board members seemed clear to consolidate the two schools at the work session, Monday evening’s decision did not come so swiftly with strong opposition from Board member Erica Smith-Ingram.

Board Chair Donald Johnson said the board, over a three-year period, has been trying to decide how to merge the two schools, including the possibility of constructing a new centrally located high school, which fell through due to the lack of funding.

“For over a year we’ve been sitting still,” he said. “The last meeting we had we finally came to the conclusion as a group that we needed to do something one way or another because here we have been going through all of the process, legal ramifications we need to do if we’re going to merge the (schools).”

Johnson said at work session six board members were present (Ingram was absent due to a work commitment) and the matter was discussed at great length.

“The consensus was that the merger would take place in the school year 2012-13 and would take place in the Creeksville precinct,” he said.

Johnson then called for a motion on the matter and Board member Bill Little moved to approve the consolidation of the two schools into NCHS-East beginning at the 2012-13 school year. Lafayette Majette offered a second to the motion.

Johnson called for discussion of the topic.

Ingram said she was saddened by the fact being the only board member who resided in the western part of the county and she was going to be effected by the decision as well as other parents living in that particular area of the county.

“It just feels that because I was not here, the voice of the western end was not heard,” she said, referencing her absence from the Nov. 21 workshop. “I realize we are one county. From day one I’ve been against bussing anyone’s children for two hours.”

She noted how over the years different school precincts in the county had been rezoned into the east.

“We lost Gaston High School, we lost Gumberry High School and now this community is faced with losing another high school,” she said. “Of course the eastern end of the county is going to have more high school students, that school zone represents two-thirds of the county.”

Ingram said if the situation was East students going to West her position would be the same. She added it bothered her that there were two forums held to discuss the consolidation and her fellow board members were not listening to the citizens who spoke.

“Everyone was overwhelmingly against merging a school and bussing anybody’s kid for two hours,” she said. “So what we’re saying as a board is that we don’t care what these people have to say. We don’t care about how many children have to get up and catch a bus (at) 5:30, 5:45, 6:15 in the morning. It is appalling. It is unfair.”

“East is not in condition for the current students there,” Smith-Ingram noted, adding that she felt the board was choosing to place the consolidated school in a facility that is in bad condition.

She said a viable option would be to renovate Central Elementary as a charter school, to include four kindergarten classes and that may impact Northampton’s student population.

Kelvin Edwards said as a resident of Pleasant Hill he concurred with Ingram, but the whole picture had to be considered.

“When you look at the whole piece, we have 207 students at Northampton West and 387 at Northampton East, that was discussed in great detail,” he said. “Something else that was discussed was having more course offerings.”

Edwards said there was a price tag of $14 million to convert Central Elementary into a high school.

After further discussion, Johnson said the board had considered the same points Ingram brought up. He asked Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews if there would be any student that would be traveling two hours to school.

Matthews responded he believed it would be more like an hour and a half to an hour and 20 minutes.

Vice Chair Marjorie Edwards said the board discussed the topic for three hours during the work session, including getting East up to par in order to accommodate students for five years until funds could be acquired for a new high school.

“It’s very difficult for us to sit here and say financially keep on having two high schools,” she said. “We are taking our children and giving them less than what they (deserve). We can’t do things we need to be doing to have our kids have the best education possible.”

Ingram suggested dividing the motion into two, first to consolidate schools and second, the location of the consolidated high school.

“I don’t believe we have to make the decision about location right now,” she said.

She further asked board members to hold their decision on the location and take bids for the renovation of Central Elementary.

Ingram then moved to amend the original motion to recommend the high schools merge 2012-13. Kelvin Edwards offered a second and the motion passed in a 4-3 vote with Ingram, Kelvin Edwards, Rhonda Taylor and Johnson voting in favor of the measure.

The board then voted on the recommendation to merge the two high schools next year and the measure passed in a 6-1 vote with Little voicing opposition.

In a final action, board members voted on the location of the consolidated high school. The board had a final discussion regarding the matter before the vote was taken.

Ingram asked her fellow board members again to consider doing studies on ride times for high schoolers to Central Elementary.

Johnson questioned if Central was renovated into a high school where would the elementary students go.

“You’ve got to have a place for them,” he said.

After further discussion, Taylor said during the work session discussion she did ask about the Central Elementary option and was told about the $14 million cost.

“Therefore, that is not going to be an option,” she said.

Ingram said there was no competitive bid for that renovation.

Taylor said she has her own child at East and he needed to be competitive in his education.

“My child needs to be able to compete with other students across the United States when he goes to college next year,” she said. “So no matter where that school is, he’s going. He’s going. If it’s at East, he’s going. If it’s at West, he’s going. He’s going to get an education. He’s not learning about what his mama thinks, what the adults think. He’s going to school. He’s going with friends, he knows people at East, he knows people at West. He’s not biased. He does not care. He just wants a proper education.”

Marjorie Edwards moved to located the consolidated school at Northampton East until the district could better itself financially. Majette offered a second and the motion passed in a 6-1 vote with Ingram voicing opposition.