School merger at standstill

Published 12:45 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2012

WINDSOR – The possible consolidation of two Bertie County high schools is at a standstill.

Monday night the Bertie County Board of Education heard from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins, a pair of principals and a host of parents, but took no action on the merger of Bertie STEM High School and Bertie Early College High School.

“I know this is a very sensitive issue,” Harris-Rollins began. “At issue is this is the second year we have faced a reversion to the state.”

The superintendent said the board was facing a reversion to the state of North Carolina of approximately $1.3 million this coming year after already sending $1.4 million back in the current year.

She said the possible merger of the two schools would help save money and would also help each school add curriculum for their current students.

Harris-Rollins then presented the basics of each school:

  • Enrollment – STEM 207; Early College 98;
  • Both schools focused on Agriculture and Biotechnology;
  • College courses – STEM 18 hours; Early College 483 hours;
  • Student/computer ration – STEM 1:36; Early College 1:1; and
  • Mathematics – STEM Integrated Math; Early College Traditional Sequence and Integrated Math.

The superintendent then presented the crux of the problem. If the school district intends, as it does, to merge all of Bertie High School back on to a single campus, the Bertie STEM High School cannot function autonomously without significant staff additions.

She showed that 100 percent of seniors are cross enrolled at Bertie High School while 80 percent of seniors take three or more courses in a four-course day at BHS.

Of the junior class of Bertie STEM, there are 50 percent cross enrolled at Bertie High.

“STEM does not and cannot function as an autonomous school,” Harris-Rollins told the board.

She further said that if the ninth and tenth grades were to return to BHS from the campus of the old Southwestern High School, STEM would have to move to that campus to join Bertie Early College.

The superintendent said the consolidated school would continue to be a North Carolina New Schools Project facility and would maintain its small-school status with a maximum of 400 students.

According to Harris-Rollins, all three high schools are currently members of the STEM affinity network which allows all members to work together and draw from each other as well as getting staff development. Each of the institutions pays a $50,000 membership fee each year, one of which would be eliminated by the merger.

The main savings, however, would come through staffing. For each of the schools to be autonomous, it would require 28 teaching positions for STEM and 18 for the Early College. A merged school would require a total of 25 or 26 positions.

Board chair Gloria Lee asked if it was still required for Bertie STEM to be on the campus of a comprehensive high school.

Harris-Rollins said that was not a requirement.

Bertie STEM Principal Lisa Parker initially said the school was required to be on the campus of a comprehensive high school, but later agreed with Harris-Rollins that it was up to the local board to make the decision.

Parents and some staff members said they were concerned about a variety of aspects of the possible merger, including the fact that each student chose one school or the other and not a merged school.

Harris-Rollins said that happened when the school district was in a different financial condition.

After lengthy discussion the board decided to seek more information before proceeding.