RSS board considers closing six elementary schools

Published 3:24 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

SALISBURY — The Board of Education is considering a scenario that would close six elementary schools, after discussing the issue at an all-day retreat Thursday.

In addition to Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools — which already are slated to be consolidated into a new school — the proposed plan would also shutter Mt. Ulla, Enochville, Faith and Morgan elementary schools.

SfL+a Architects and the Operations Research and Education Laboratory presented a population forecast predicting significant student decline over the next five years.

The number of open seats is one reason the board is considering consolidating several elementary schools district-wide – along with the rising costs of keeping up an aging infrastructure.

“The question was if we were to persue a consolidation plan, how would that affect the school district as a whole?” Ted Hughes with SfL+a said.

After running numbers on seat capacity, population distribution and school utilization, Sfl+a recommended a scenario in which the six district elementary schools are closed.

The new consolidated western elementary school would pick up the most of the three western schools, forming a large, northwest attendance area that covers a large chunk of the county. Millbridge elementary’s attendance area would be expanded to cover Enochville, and Morgan’s largely absorbed by Rockwell.

However, Hughes said, closing six schools would require the redrawing of every elementary school attendance zone in the district in order to ensure that no school was over capacity and that every school was being utilized at nearly 100 percent. The proposed new boundaries would prioritize students attending the elementary school closest to them, and concentrate attendance barriers along the Interstate 85 corridor as well as school usage. It would require the shift of more than 4,000 students.

After SfL+a advised that school closings not be done “piecemeal,” the board leaned towards the idea of closing the schools at the same time the new western elementary school is projected to open: August, 2017. However, the new school may not open until January 2018, which would mean shuffling around nearly 50 percent of the school’s elementary students in the middle of the year.

The issue will be brought back at the April 25 business meeting, when Chairman Josh Wagner said the board could make a decision on whether to proceed with the scenario.

Wagner said the board could decide to proceed with the closings without community input, but could not actually close the schools until it held town meetings. Wagner said the board would hash out details before the business meeting. While no one on the board spoke out against the scenario at Thursday’s retreat, Wagner said that may not be true at the business meeting.

“Anything can happen,” he said.