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Rebecca Rider column: Consolidation questions

Thursday everything exploded. At least that’s what it felt like. The presentation of a scenario for closing six schools – Morgan, Faith, Mt. Ulla and Enochville, in addition to Cleveland and Woodleaf — at Thursday’s board retreat has had the Post – and to my understanding, the school system – drowning in an influx of phone calls and e-mails. So, to everyone who has sent me an e-mail, or left me messages: I am keeping a list of all of your concerns and questions, and I will find answers to them if I can.

But it’s also important to realize that sometimes, there aren’t answers – yet, at least. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education does not have them. At least not that they’ve stated in a public forum. And they have their own questions. I have mine, too.

I don’t know much about the western half of the county, but I do know that driving from, say, Tuckertown Reservoir to Rockwell Elementary takes at least 30 minutes by my driving time. It’s a drive I made frequently in high school, and I will admit that I did not always follow the speed limit.

In elementary school, my bus from Rockwell took more than an hour to drive from the school straight down Highway 52 to Gin Road and back. If Morgan is closed, I cannot imagine how long the drive from Gold Hill, or Tuckertown, would be.

The proposed Northwestern attendance zone takes up roughly a quarter of the county. How long will those drives be?

I do not have questions about capacity. I have heard about overcrowded classes and I have seen the trailers, but I have also seen the empty classrooms.

But I do have questions about attendance zones that are drawn without consideration for the socioeconomics of their student base. A boundary that cuts off affluent neighborhoods from poorer ones has, in the past, not done the system much good. And if, looking purely at test scores, system supports are already struggling to help those schools, what more could they promise the new boundaries?

I also have questions about jobs. The system currently has 133 openings listed on its website – 86 of those are for licensed teachers. Is that really enough to catch every teacher, administrator and staff member?

What will become of the empty buildings? Old school facilities have limited uses, and would likely require serious renovations – for reuse, for asbestos removal, or even to demolish. So a plan, too, is something I would like to see. There’s talk of moving the district forward – but a system can’t go anywhere if it’s still dragging its old bones behind it.

I don’t doubt that something needs to be done about the aging schools in the Rowan-Salisbury system. I have attended old schools all my life. I know the way the floors creak, and the windows leech the heat out of rooms in the winter. I know how the roofs and pipes leak when it rains. I know what it’s like to be sent home when the air conditioning breaks in August and the building could not maintain a steady temperature. I know what it’s like to be in a computer lab and have everything shut off from overheating – despite the window unit struggling to keep up with May’s burst of heat. I know about asbestos, scratched up from the floor or spilling from the wrapping of pipes, and lead paint lining tucked-away windows and banisters.

Time will tell if this is actually the best solution – at this point, with so little data on anything besides capacity, energy and age, there is no way to tell if consolidation will harm or help the district.

I am aware that the Board of Education has to, in a sense, jump the gun in the way it deals with proposals. It has to hear the suggestion first, and then backtrack and figure out the details to decide if it would even be feasible.

I hope that they will respect and respond to the questions of the public, and my own, with the tact and gravity expected of an elected official. And I hope that they will examine every possibility and outcome before making a decision.

This, I know, will take a long time. I am willing to be patient. But many do not have that luxury – it’s their home, their livelihood. And their concerns need to be addressed as expediently as possible in an open, even dialogue. It will be a long conversation, but it’s one that needs to start immediately. And it’s one I will pay close attention to — after all, it’s my home, too.

 

Contact education reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264 or rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

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