Consolidation talks continue

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2018

During a joint budget hearing of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors and the Charlotte County School Board, consolidation talks continued to be a recurring topic in light of the upcoming budget.

“It’s small class sizes you want, not small buildings,” said Red House/Cullen Supervisor Dr. Nancy Carwile during a presentation at the meeting.

“We took every bit of flexibility … we had in the governor’s budget, we put it in the capital improvements line item, because we know that our facilities are in need of work and if we put it in capital improvements it’s also a place where we can locate those funds and keep up with it instead of it being embedded into different areas,” said Superintendent of Charlotte County Schools Dr. Nancy Leonard.

Leonard said it is a priority to work on the schools. While Leonard said it was beyond the basic budget, lots of work and studies have been done on how to address the needs of the three elementary schools, Bacon District, Eureka Elementary and Phenix Elementary, in the county.

She said the urgent $3 million HVAC renovations at Eureka could have impacted the educational delivery services.

Additionally, Leonard said Bacon District Elementary and Phenix Elementary were not a priority in the capital improvements plans because the needs at those two schools were so great and beyond the scope of simple maintenance.

In light of this, she said $3 million renovations are currently being sought for those two schools.

Carwile said currently, it is costing the county $800,000 each year to continue operating three different elementary schools.

“The problem of three unequal schools is not something that we did,” said Carwile. “But, we keep trying to fix those problems and I think that in some ways … if you dig a hole and you’re in a hole, stop digging.

According to Carwile, enrollment may keep dropping at the small elementary schools, which could result in the combining of classes. “I can tell you, small schools aren’t better, but small class sizes are way better,” she said.

She said a consolidated school would provide the county an extra $800,000 per year, while keeping small classes, the same teachers and the same bus routes. Carwile said it would also better prepare the students for middle school. Currently, elementary aged students in Charlotte County from the three separate schools do not consolidate until reaching Central Middle School. She said there were also people who objected to Randolph-Henry in the past, because they did not want to give up the high schools in each locality.

During the meeting, former school board member and Wylliesburg resident Bill Devin said, “one point that you failed to mention, we’ve been talking about school consolidation for over 10 years. Suppose this county had taken the initiative and consolidated 10 years ago?” Devin said at that time, interest rates were low and construction costs were also low. “Think where we would be today, how far along that school would be … ” He said the school could almost be paid for by now.

Red Oak/Wylliesburg area resident Jennifer Lacks agreed consolidation would be a positive move. “I agree with the consolidation,” she said. “I think that’s the best thing you can do for our children (and) for our grandchildren and it’s the best way to bring industry into this county.”

Cullen resident Cornell Goldman said he was a proponent of consolidation and would suggest either closing all three elementary schools or just closing Bacon District Elementary and Phenix Elementary.

Goldman said some of the benefits of consolidating the elementary schools besides money, along with building the new school in Charlotte Court House, would be a more secure school, immediate medical care available in town and the model FFA farm to get students involved in agriculture at an early age. Additionally, he said all the teachers would be under one roof.

“All teachers are not created equal … ,” Goldman said. He said the best teachers could lead the rest.

“When people look to move into a county, one of the first things they look at is the school system,” Goldman said. “When I moved back here 10 years ago, I had to sell my wife on coming here … ,” he said. Goldman said the best decision should be one that’s focused on all the children in the county, without worrying about public officials getting re-elected.

“We’re not Bacon District, we’re not Phenix, We’re not Eureka, we are one community. We’re Charlotte County,” said Goldman.