COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Columbus County Board of Education was presented with a proposal Wednesday night that would close four of Columbus County Schools’ campuses in order to cut costs.
“Nobody wants to close schools, but we really don’t have an option at this point if we want to ensure that we can continue to educate kids in the most effective way,” said superintendent Deanne Meadows.
The proposal offers several options, but the superintendent is recommending the following changes:
- Hallsboro Middle School and Acme Delco Middle School would close while Hallsboro Elementary School and Acme Delco Elementary School would change to grades K-6 and East Columbus High to grades 7-12
- Guideway Elementary School would close and Old Dock Elementary School would become grades K-4 and Nakina Middle School grades 5-8
- The Fair Bluff campus of Columbus Career and College Academy would close with all programs and students moving to Southeastern Community College
- Operations, technology and child nutrition would move from Mount Olive to Hallsboro Middle School.
Enrollment in the school system has declined by 684 students over the last seven years, leading to a revenue loss of $5.8 million.
“Part of it is the loss of the different industries in the area, the tobacco industry, the textiles, just economic development in the area and then the storms," said superintendent Deanne Meadows. "Hurricane Matthew, Florence and there were homes that were obviously destroyed, businesses that were destroyed and they just have not been able to recover.”
Between state, federal and local funding, Meadows says Columbus County schools receive about $8,000 a student, but some of the smaller schools are costing $9,500 a student to operate, leaving the district upside down and putting financial strain on all the schools.
Meadows says she understands people will be upset about proposed closures for a variety of reasons, but she hopes they’ll understand the reasoning behind her recommendation.
“I don’t want to sound trite, but it’s not about the adults. Its about the children and so, how do we insure that they’re getting that educational experience that we believe they deserve?'" she said. "It still is hard because I don’t want people to think I’m dismissing their pride in their schools, the need for jobs, but we have to put that as our priority.”
Meadows says she hopes to work through the closures while maintaining employment for those at the impacted schools.
“I truly believe that we can work through this with normal attrition of retirements, resignations, people moving, those kind of things in order for people to stay employed,” she said. “Will they have the same job they had? Absolutely not. I mean, that’s, you know, when you close schools they’re obviously not going to have those same jobs. but they could have a different position in the district that would keep them employed, so we’re going to work very hard to make that happen.”
The next step in the proposal will be to hold discussions with staff that would be affected by the changes. Public input sessions are already planned for January 27, 28 & 30.
Meadows will take that feedback and make another proposal before the Board of Education at its February 3, meeting when they’ll have the opportunity to take action.