The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors voted not to fund a request from the Mecklenburg School Board to move ahead with two middle/high schools on Monday night.
By a 7-2 vote, the supervisors voted against continuing with two middle/high schools on each end of the county and in favor of the construction of a single consolidated middle and high school complex.
Voting to support the school board’s request were board of supervisors chair Glenn Barbour and Supervisor Dan Tanner. Voting against were supervisors David Brankley, Claudia Lundy, Glanzy Spain, Gregg Gordon, Bill Blalock, Andy Hargrove and Jim Jennings.
The vote came after Lundy, chairman of the supervisors’ Educational Committee, delivered her report on the committee’s meeting last week. Although not all of the supervisors are members of the committee, almost of all them were on hand and explained their positions and why they supported or opposed the school board’s request.
The school board had requested funding for the construction of a new combined Bluestone middle/high school complex to replace the two existing facilities that serve the western end of the county, while constructing a new Park View High School at its current site to serve the eastern end of the county while renovating the current high school facilities into a middle school.
The request came after more than 20 years of debate and discussion on the future of school facilities in Mecklenburg County and three studies, including one completed this summer, conducted to determine which course of action would provide the most cost-effective and beneficial option for students.
While studies resulted in recommendations to consolidate, the general public largely opposes that option and prefers to keep the community’s schools separate.
The most recent study conducted by the architectural firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates estimated a centrally-located consolidated middle/high school complex would provide students the widest and fairest range of educational options and cost an estimated $100 million, while separate middle/high school facilities at each end of the county would cost an estimated $140 million and provide fewer educational options under each roof.
Although the same number of courses could be taught in the two school systems, the two-school plan would require some students to travel from one school to the other to take advantage of some of those opportunities.
Critics of the study argued that while Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols said he favors the consolidated school concept, he also said he and his staff would be able to work within either option.
On Monday night, reasons cited for going with the two-school plan were reduced travel time for students, the tight knitted ties between the schools and their communities and athletic programs.
However, in the resolution proposed by Lundy that ultimately passed, the supervisors officially rebuffed the school board request for two facilities, citing reasons such as splitting the educational programs between two facilities located on either end of the county, increasing estimates of construction costs as well as increased operation costs, both short and longterm.
The resolution also pointed out that the more expensive plan for two facilities would leave less funding available for proper staffing and incentives to get and keep high quality teachers.
The resolution also stated that “after careful consideration” the supervisors will not appropriate the funding for a multiple school option and “respectfully” asked the members of the school board to reconsider the single facility plan.
The resolution will be delivered to the school board for its consideration.
One local teacher and two members of the school board were on hand to talk about the schools, the process and the outcome.
Park View High School teacher George Thompson addressed the group, pointing out that he had the greatest job in the county, teaching 11th and 12th grade students. He was concerned, he said, because the schools have not been “appropriately funded” for years. Pointing out that regardless of which plans were followed, the students would be in a better, more modern and up-to-date facility.
Thompson told the group, however, that there is a large difference between reaching a consensus and a majority. He added that he felt the process should have included a poll of the Education Steering Committee members utilized as part of the Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates study, which he said was not allowed.
Thompson added that the majority of citizens in the county want to stick with the two school system currently in place and that their voices would be heard during the next election cycle.
He concluded by saying he felt the members of the school board had been diligent in representing the constituents and he saluted them for their efforts.
Gavin Honeycutt, school board member representing District 5, appeared before the group and said he would join Chairman Barbour in the “kennel.” Last week during the Educational Committee meeting, Barbour told the group that the felt like “a stray dog in the kennel” in favoring the two-school system.
Honeycutt pointed out that he ran to represent the Fifth District to “try and make a difference” and that he felt the county had grossly neglected educational facilities for more than 30 years. He also pointed out that nothing in the Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates study supported a consolidated school system. Finally, Honeycutt said that the supervisors had asked the school board to make a recommendation to move forward and that the majority of members had voted for the two facilities plan.
“The majority has spoken,” said Honeycutt, urging the group to respect the decision of the school board.
Glenn Edwards, school board representative from the Ninth District, disagreed.
Edwards thanked the supervisors for their work, pointing out that they had great responsibilities to the taxpayers and that those responsibilities include much more than just the schools.
Edwards said that in the 13 years he has served as a school board trustee, he has never seen the board of supervisors turn down a reasonable request. He added that during his tenure, the supervisors had approved a $20 million elementary school facility in South Hill and three additions and upgrades to elementary schools in La Crosse, Clarksville and Chase City. All of those projects, he said, had been needed and had improved the quality of education in the county.
Edwards added that Mecklenburg now has a “top-notch” superintendent and that he is heading Mecklenburg in the proper direction. He also thanked the supervisors for hiring one of the most respected firms in the region to undertake the latest facility study.
Edwards pointed out that the results of the study indicated that not only would a consolidated facility provide the best educational opportunities for the students, it was also the most cost-effective way to proceed.
Edwards also said that County Administrator Wayne Carter had provided funding options and that the county could afford to spend approximately $100 million for the project.
“We can’t afford more,” said Edwards. “We can’t do it.”
The subject of school facilities came up again during the supervisors’ comment session of the meeting.
Tanner said he supported the two-school plan but understood others feel differently.
“There are no losers when you do something for education of the kids,” said Tanner, adding that he felt both the supervisors and the school board members were working for all of the children.
“I think this board and the school bard are committed, and I’m proud of it,” said Tanner.
Spain said the county had moved forward in the process to this point and everyone is in agreement that the county has to have new facilities to provide education for the students.
“We have to support all of the county,” said Spain. “Not either side. This is a small problem. We can get over it.”
Lundy said she hopes the school board will carefully read the resolution passed earlier in the meeting and “keep the children at the forefront of their thoughts.”
Hargrove pointed out that the mission is to prepare students to be prepared for life after school and that both bodies need to “collaborate” to reach that goal.
“We don’t want to be so disagreeable that nothing happens,” he said.
Brankley told the group that although mistakes may have been made in the past and couldn’t be changed, “I certainly hope we can do something about tomorrow.”
Pointing out that education of the students is the most pressing issue, Brankley said that while Nichols had said he could work with either proposal, “I want to do it the best way for the kids.” He added that Nichols and the study had concluded that the single school would provide that “best way.”
Finally, Brankley said he hopes the two sides could reach agreement and get on with project as soon as possible.
“Let’s make something happen at least by Christmas,” said Brankley.
Jennings said the county is “at a crossroads” and that people have to understand that while schools are probably the most important concern of the county, there are other important concerns that have to be met.
He added that he does not want to see this project turn into a gridlocked project, as seen in Washington, D.C.
“I’m afraid we’re easily sitting on a school on the edge of forever,” he said. “Whatever we’re going to do, everyone needs to get on board.”
Gordon agreed. He also pointed out that the county has to remember that the project will involve more than just the actual facilities but also staffing them with the best teachers and staff members the county can attract.
He urged both sides to come together so work could begin on starting that process.
“This is the opportunity of several lifetimes,” said Gordon. “We need to do it properly.”