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Mason addresses enrollment

Robbie Mason

Charlotte County School Superintendent Robbie Mason said the school system is committed to community schools and should focus its efforts on renovating the current facilities.

“The concept of community schools lends itself to the fact that there will be some schools with lesser enrollments,” Mason said. “The citizens of this county have been clear that they are in support of having community schools. Our school board has been very consistent in its support for community schools over the past several years, and I join in that support.”

Charlotte Court House resident Terry Ramsey took to the podium to address the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) during the public comment period of the Feb. 10 meeting, expressing his concerns about declining student enrollment.

“We are on a slippery slope as we spend more and more to patch up and operate three separate elementary schools for fewer and fewer students,” Ramsey said. “Each time we spend reserves or increase debt to patch an old building which is only needed for a short time, the more foolish it will look to close a school we just borrowed money to patch. But with the steady enrollment decline, the choice of closing a school is inevitable.”

During his address, Ramsey cited numbers he obtained from the Department of Education showing enrollment of 212 students in 2014- 2015 compared to 151 during the 2019-2020 school term for Bacon District Elementary School.

For Phenix, enrollment dropped from 272 for 2014-2015 to 240 students in 2019-2020.

Eureka Elementary School sees the highest number of students with 472 in the 2014-2015 school term and 448 in the 2019- 2020 term.

“The number of students at Bacon District Elementary has traditionally been slightly smaller than at Phenix Elementary, and both schools have had significantly fewer students than Eureka Elementary,” Mason said.

“Money has been spent recently at all three elementary schools to make improvements. Our current elementary school setup works well for our students, and I see no reason to change,” Mason said. “Our students and parents deserve better than to constantly hear about the need for their community schools to be closed. We need to focus on renovating these schools so that our students can continue to perform well today, tomorrow, and into the future.”

During the Feb. 10 BOS meeting, supervisors, Kay Pierantoni, who represents the Wylliesburg/Red Oak District, and Supervisor Will Garnett, who represents the Bacon/Saxe District, spoke to the declining enrollment and where students can attend.

“Students over the years had been allowed to choose their school,” Pierantoni said.

“We need to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘hey, if you live in this district, that’s where you’re going to school,’” Garnett said.

On Monday, Feb. 24, The Charlotte Gazette reached out to Mason to verify those comments. “To say that elementary students may attend school wherever the parent chooses is inaccurate,” Mason said. “Students in CCPS are required to attend school in their designated school zones.”

According to Mason, there are a few exceptional situations that arise that result in students attending schools out-of-zone.

“If a child begins in one elementary school, and his or her family moves out of that school zone, the parents may elect for the child to continue attending the original school if the parents provide transportation,” Mason said. “Our staff members have to arrive to work early, and they may bring their children with them to attend school or catch a bus, which may result in those children attending out-of-zone. Unique needs for students with disabilities or health concerns are also considered.”