By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Board: School Facility Study Needed - Brevard NC

 


A study of Transylvania County Schools’ facilities, including looking at consolidation, was unanimously backed last week by the Board of Education.

The school board plans to choose the winning bid for the project May 5, with the long-term goal of having a bond referendum next year to pay for any improvements.

The school system regularly updates facility conditions and needs, but Norris Barger, the director of Business Services, said he’d like an outside party to review their work and make sure nothing has been overlooked.

Barger’s initial recommendation to the board was to do a more comprehensive study, including looking at educational programs

Board member Cindy Petit asked for more clarification on what the study would comprise.

Barger said that in 1998 when the school system was preparing for a bond, an outside firm conducted a study and staff did one in-house. Those studies also looked at consolidation and educational programming.

Another study was done in 1999.

“The study five years ago was focused on safety and security in our schools, how we teach our kids and what was going to be happening in the next 10 years in terms of technology and enrollment, and what we could provide for our kids in the future,” Barger said. “It was mostly focused on facilities and what was required.”

Barger said he wasn’t sure what some in the community wanted the school system to study now.

“My initial thoughts were to just study the facilities and prepare for a bond issue,” he said. “I’m not sure what else is being discussed in the county. There were a couple of studies mentioned at the joint Board of Education and county commissioners meeting, but they did not focus on facilities.”

At the joint meeting, the idea of a comprehensive study of the school system was mentioned.

Board member Mike Rogers said he’d done some research on one of the firms mentioned at the joint meeting, Evergreen Solutions. Rogers said it had done a few studies in the state, including a financial review of the Burke County school system and looked at the structure of the state Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“What I’ve said from the very beginning is if we’re going to ask for a $20 million bond, the public needs to be aware of what’s going on,” he said. “I think a study, a comprehensive study, would benefit us greatly. Whatever this cost is, I am not in favor of the school system bearing this cost.”

Board member Ron Kiviniemi thinks it is important the board chooses who conducts the study.

Petit said the board needs to “seriously discuss” what direction it is going to take. Board Chairwoman Tawny McCoy agreed.

Rogers made a motion to have a comprehensive study done by an expert firm, such as Evergreen Solutions, which would include a facilities study, operational expenses, school system expenses, child nutrition and salaries.

The motion failed after no other board member seconded it.

Kiviniemi then made a motion to have just a facility study done. He said a more comprehensive study would require more time than the board currently has to have a bond issued.

Rogers requested to amend the motion and for it to include sample reports of studies completed for other school systems by the chosen firm.

Petit seconded the amendment, but requested another amendment to exclude looking at the feasibility and cost of consolidation.

“We have looked at the numbers and listened to the community,” she said. “We don’t need to waste our money on a consolidation study.”

Kiviniemi said it wouldn’t hurt to look at the numbers and the feasibility of consolidation.

“We have the final say, and we are firmly committed to small, community-based schools,” he said. “That said, I would like to see the numbers. We owe it to ourselves to at least look at them.”

Petit’s amendment was rejected, while Kiviniemi’s motion, along with Rogers’ amendment, passed unanimously.

A previous study of school facilities in 2009 cost $25,000. Barger estimated that a more comprehensive study, including a look at educational programs, would cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

Consolidation

At its last board meeting, a large number of residents, particularly from the Rosman area, spoke against consolidating the two high schools.

More residents came out last week to talke about consolidation

Dr. Ruffin Benton said he was speaking on behalf of residents in the “upper end of the county.”

Benton has been a family doctor in Brevard for 38 years and has been a team doctor for both high schools for 25 years.

He and his wife have raised their children in the school system. He appreciates the opportunities made available to their children and grandchildren by the school system.

“For our children, for our country, the foundation of that future is education,” he said. “We’ve done well, and we hope to do even better.”

He said county leaders, including the school board, must make the best decisions for the future and look beyond academics or sports.

“Rosman is more than a town,” he said. “It’s a community and a way of life. There’s something there that is hard to define. It’s about as easy to capture the smell of Ecusta in a butterfly net. You can’t do it. It’s not Mayberry. It’s better.

“Since the belonging and strength and character engendered in the students of the upper end of the county begins at Rosman Elementary School and TC Henderson, there’s no place like RHS to build on that foundation, finish the job and send the young adult into the future with that education, plus their desire to not only succeed but excel.

“When we look to the future, these tangible intangibles are the best of the past that should not be left behind. After due diligence is done by the county commissioners and the Board of Education, hopefully there will be a place for Rosman schools. They are priceless.”

Kim Mathis, a 1983 Rosman High graduate, said she was opposed to consolidation.

“Community is so strong here,” she said. “I know as a board you are responsible for the entire county. Brevard has the same sense of community that we do. If you just provide a kid a firm education, you will build in him the character that they need to go out in the world.

“We don’t need to focus on consolidation. We need to focus on economic development in the county.”

TJ Hooper, a county native, said he first looked at consolidation from a fiscal standpoint.

He said the county would be unable to recoup the costs of building a new high school.

“Historically, larger schools just don’t do as good. Kids don’t get as much attention, there’s not as much one-on-one help, and, as we were saying earlier, the sense of community between the schools should also be taken into consideration,” he said. “I went to Rosman, my bother and my sister went to Brevard. You have that division, but there’s also unity between the two.”

Jake Dalton said a new high school would raise property taxes more.

“I question the real purpose of school consolidation, and I wonder if it is a ruse to extract more money from private enterprises that are already struggling,” he said.

Dalton said Transylvania County has the best educational programs in the state, noting how many scholarships are awarded each year.

He went on to question whether there is sufficient land available to build a new high school.

“This has been brought up several times, but it’s a viable and true honest fact — without Rosman High School the town of Rosman dries up,” he said. “Everything in that town revolves around the school.”

Rosman Alderman Jared Crowe also spoke.

He said studies he’d read suggest consolidation doesn’t save the amount of money spent per student and administrative and other costs increase in the long-term.

He also highlighted potentially longer bus rides for some students, who could go to other schools, such as Blue Ridge High School in Cashiers.

The United States Department of Education, Crowe said, suggested a higher percentage of students across all socio-economic levels are successful when they are a part of a smaller, more intimate learning community.

“Security improves, violence decreases, as do student alcohol and drug use,” Crowe said. “Small-size schools encourage teachers to innovate and students to participate more, which results in higher grades, higher test scores, improved attendance and lowered drop out rates.”

“I think Jake Dalton hit on it really well,” Crowe said. “The topic of school consolidation is just a distraction from the real problem that the county is facing. Economic development and jobs are the key here. It’s no secret that when the big plants closed the enrollment numbers dropped. That’s where our focus needs to be, not on this consolidation.

“Look at Marshall, Hot Springs, Clyde, Webster and Edneyville. They were all towns that used to be centered around a high school. These towns are basically not existent now.”

 
 

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