Editorial: Money not the only cost to consider with schools

Published 10:23 am Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education should move deliberately as it seeks to “right size” the county’s inventory of schools. The public has concerns that must be addressed openly and repeatedly to win community support.

In addition to closing Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools, which are being replaced with a new school, the proposal is to close Enochville, Faith, Morgan and Mt. Ulla schools. Is this plan worth the upheaval it is about to cause?

True, 1,800 empty seats are far too many in a system of 20 elementary schools. The closings under discussion would leave the remaining schools with virtually 100 percent occupancy. Might we close schools now only to wish, 15 years later, that we still had their capacity? The plan leaves room for that. Enrollment is expected to decline further; if there is growth down the road, the schools should be able to handle it. Leaders are still hoping to replace old buildings, so they could adjust for more students as they fix the infrastructure.

What happens to the teachers and administrators at the schools that may close? Officials have predicted no teaching positions would be lost — thanks to the usual attrition — but what about principals and other employees who would be out of a job? Saving those salaries is part of the rationale for streamlining the system. How will this be handled?

Redistricting is always a sensitive subject. Will new district lines be drawn in a way that avoids packing some schools with an inordinately high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch? Rowan-Salisbury made that mistake several years ago when it carved out a district for Koontz Elementary, which opened in 2007. So far, architects and consultants have looked solely at the numbers of students and seats. Other factors should be taken into considerations.

Most important, how will this move impact class size and the quality of instruction? Families accustomed to small schools have real fears about their children receiving less attention. How can the system make sure instruction does not suffer? Parents are worried about the incalculable impact on their children’s education.

Bravo to school board members for wanting to be good stewards of the tax dollar. Now let’s see how they take care of that other precious commodity, public trust. The schools targeted for closure have some of the strongest community support and best test scores in the county. It’s not enough to say these cuts will save money. Board members and the superintendent need to explain the urgency behind this drastic plan and the use they have in mind for the funds saved. System leaders have been talking around this issue in broad terms for several months. Now that the public sees the potential personal impact, let’s hear more specifics.