Willis Hare closing studied

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022

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JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Education held a special called meeting here on June 6 to approve moving forward with a School Closing Study.

Willis Hare Elementary School, located near Pendleton, will be the subject of that study. Northampton Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns presented the study request to the Board during Monday’s virtual meeting.

“Based on the current operating costs, the age, the conditions of the building, and environmental conditions, I am requesting authorization from the Board to conduct a School Closing Study to consider the feasibility of closing Willis Hare Elementary School,” Dr. Burns stated.

He cited North Carolina General Statute 115C-72 which details the process to follow and what to consider when deciding to close a school within a district. The statute notes that a thorough study will be made “having in mind primarily the welfare of the students to be affected by a proposed closing.” Factors to consider include geographic conditions, anticipated increase or decrease in enrollment, the inconvenience or hardship that might result for affected students, the cost of providing additional school facilities, and anything else that may be considered relevant.

Dr. Burns explained that, if the study is authorized, the next steps would be to hear a presentation of the study, and then conduct a public hearing where citizens can express their views on the matter.

“Following the public hearing, the board will consider the question of the closure of the elementary school,” Burns concluded.

There was little discussion from the board after hearing Dr. Burns’ request. Only Tony Burnette asked if health factors would be considered in the study, to which Dr. Burns replied that topic would fall under environmental conditions in the study.

Board member Dr. Marjorie Edwards motioned to authorize the study, and Clinton Williams seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

Dr. Burns stated he would have more information for the Board at their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, June 13.

Currently, Northampton County’s public school district has three elementary schools: Willis Hare Elementary (in Pendleton), Central Elementary (in Jackson), and Gaston STEM Leadership Academy (in Gaston).

The district recently applied for grant funding from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund for a total of approximately $75 million to construct a new centrally-located school to house grades 6-12.

In May, the district was awarded just under $40 million, an amount that Dr. Burns told the News Herald was not enough to build a new school, and the district would be exploring all their options on how to proceed.