School merger questioned

Published 10:28 am Thursday, January 12, 2012

JACKSON — Residents from the western portion of Northampton County made their opinions loud and clear about the merger between the school district’s two high schools.

On Monday the Northampton County Board of Education listened to eight citizens express their concerns over the planned consolidation between Northampton County High School-East and Northampton County High School-West.

In December the board voted to merge the two schools beginning school year 2012-13 and base the consolidated school in the district’s Creeksville precinct, more specifically at the NCHS-East campus.

Before public comments were opened, Board Chair Donald Johnson stated that due to the number of speakers who signed up to talk about the same topic, the board decided to limit each person to two minutes so everyone had a chance to speak. The board has a policy regarding public comment that no one topic should exceed 15 minutes.

Citizens who spoke out on Monday evening citied an array of reasons the merger should not happen, including lengthy bus rides and the rivalry between East and West.

The Rev. Richard Webb accused board members of violating state law as it pertains to consolidating schools.

Webb was given 12 minutes to speak as those who signed up to speak yielded their time to him.

Webb said over 600 signatures had been collected in a petition to save “our schools and the economy.”

“I urge this board tonight to consider everything that was said tonight and reconsider the vote you took on Dec. 5 to merge the high school at campus East,” he said.

He further accused the board of violating G.S. 115C-72, which addresses consolidation of districts and discontinuance of schools.

“Your decision violated the North Carolina General Statute, (the recommendation made by) the feasibility study and most of all have violated the civil rights and the civil liberties of our children and our taxpaying people in Northampton County on the western end,” Webb said.

Webb said it was not the intention to threaten legal action; nevertheless, the community was going to stand up for their rights as people and the rights of their children.

“What (the law) requires you to do is complete a comprehensive feasibility study based on the decision from the school merging and discontinue the school on the fact of not preferring,” he said.

G.S. 115C-72 states the following:

Local boards of education shall have the power and authority to close or consolidate schools located in the same district, and with the approval of the State Board of Education, to consolidate school districts or other school areas over which the board has full control, whenever and wherever in its judgment the closing or consolidation will better serve the educational interest of the local school administrative unit or any part of it.

In determining whether two or more public schools shall be consolidated, or in determining whether or not a school shall be closed and the pupils transferred there from, local boards of education of the several counties shall observe and be bound by the following rules:

(1) In any question involving the closing or consolidation of any public school, the local board of education of the school administrative unit in which such school is located shall cause a thorough study of such school to be made, having in mind primarily the welfare of the students to be affected by a proposed closing or consolidation and including in such study, among other factors, geographic conditions, anticipated increase or decrease in school enrollment, the inconvenience or hardship that might result to the pupils to be affected by such closing or consolidation, the cost of providing additional school facilities in the event of such closing or consolidation, and such other factors as the board shall consider germane. Before the entry of any order of closing or consolidation, the local board of education shall provide for a public hearing in regard to such proposed closing or consolidation, at which hearing the public shall be afforded an opportunity to express their views. Upon the basis of the study so made and after such hearing, said board may, in the exercise of its discretion, approve the closing or consolidation proposed.

(2) The provisions of this section shall not deprive any local board of education of the authority to assign or enroll any and all pupils in schools in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 115C‑366(b) and 115C‑367 to 115C‑370.

“This board voted in violation of the statute. We have prepared a motion, a juncture release, and we will file an in conjunction to bar you from proceeding with your proposal to merge the high school on the East campus if you do not direct nor comply with the results of your feasibility study,” Webb said.

Among the other speakers was Clinton Williams who said the merger would cause “significant despair” in the students traveling.

Williams referred to the 2009 MBNJ feasibility study.

“It made recommendations that you should have a uniform grade distribution, which would put grades K-3 at Squire, Willis Hare and Central Elementary schools, 4-6 at Gaston and Conway and 7-12 at High School East and High School West,” he said.

Williams asked the board why they had made their decision when the study recommended “mirror image” school set ups on either end of the county.

Grover Rook, who also referred to the MBNJ study, suggested West would be a better option with it being a new and modern facility and the land having more acreage.

“I’m just wondering how we came to that decision based upon that study,” he said.

TaQuishia Harris, a junior at West, said she did not agree with the decision as well due to travel and fear of not receiving a quality education.

“I want to know why all of a sudden we have to travel a long distance for education,” she said. “You’re putting our education in danger.”

Harris said students at West are unfamiliar with the educational ways at East and students there could be on a different educational level than those at West.

She referred to a rivalry between the schools as well.

“The violence between one another it’s already bad enough, we don’t get a long,” she said. “You put us together it’s going to make it worse.”

The board did not respond to the comments made, but said they would be taken into consideration.

In 2009, a local community taskforce was initiated to study the consolidation of schools. In addition, an independent feasibility study was conducted on the district by MBAJ Architectural the same year and another by SFL&A in 2010.

In September of 2010, a report from School Planning with the State Department of Public Instruction recommended the following:

To perform minimum renovations to NCHS-East to serve all high school grades for five years.

Operate a middle school at existing Conway Middle School and the current NCHS-West STEM.

Close Squire Elementary School completely and move Pre-K,

Kindergarten and first grades to Gaston Elementary with appropriate additions and renovations.

Continue to strive for a new centrally located high school.