Aulander Elementary to close

Published 5:24 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

WINDSOR – Once this school year is complete, the doors will forever close at Aulander Elementary.

The Bertie County Board of Education voted at their meeting here March 12 to permanently close the school and merge with West Bertie Elementary. The vote came after the decision had been tabled during previous meetings.

Board member Rickey Freeman motioned to approve the school closure, and the vote was 4-1 in favor. Christine Dudley was the sole opposing vote.

The board first began considering the possibility of closing the school in 2023 as a way to address declining enrollment within the district.

“Currently, Aulander has under 100 students,” stated Bertie Superintendent Dr. Otis Smallwood.

The school building, which was constructed in the 1960s, has a capacity for 375 students. But the enrollment has been trending downwards over the past several years. According to data presented to the board, Aulander Elementary had an enrollment of only 154 students during the 2019-20 school year.

Since then, those numbers have continued to fall, dropping down to 94 students for the 2023-24 school year, and they do not expect the trend to reverse any time soon.

Dr. Smallwood noted that when student enrollment drops under 100, the state stops providing funds for the school principal’s salary. So the district would have to cover that salary using local funds instead.

By closing the school, Dr. Smallwood said there would be an estimated $400,000 savings in total for utilities, maintenance, and salaries combined.

Students currently at Aulander will attend West Bertie Elementary next year, though Smallwood explained that a very small number of students who are located closer to the district’s other elementary schools could attend those instead. No transportation issues are anticipated.

A public hearing was held in November 2023 where people shared their thoughts on the school closure proposal. Those opposed said they didn’t want another vacant building in the community, and worried that the lack of a school might turn people away from moving to the area.

Another concern was about larger class sizes due to the merger.

Dr. Smallwood addressed class size concerns at Tuesday’s meeting, noting that West Bertie is also a small school and will still be under capacity after the merger. It’s estimated that class size ratios next year would range from 14:1 in kindergarten to 26:1 in fifth grade.

There was no mention of any plans for the school building after its closure, but Dr. Smallwood previously told the News Herald that the district did not have a use for it. Per state statute, the building must be first offered to the county commissioners.

Following Dr. Smallwood’s presentation on March 12, board member Tarsha Dudley thanked him for the information. She also noted that a decision needed to be made so that they could prepare West Bertie for receiving the new students next school year.

“It has been a very tough decision, but from an economic standpoint, this is something that it looks like we have to do,” she said.

There was no further discussion by the board.