Editorial: Consolidation still worthy of study

Published 12:05 am Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education took a practical step last week in dismissing an unrealistic consolidation proposal. Closing six of the system’s 20 elementary schools was clearly more than the community would tolerate. The board will lose hard-earned ground, though, if it stops exploring ways to deal with the system’s 1,800 empty elementary school seats as soon as possible.

The abandoned plan was designed by architects and planners tasked with finding solutions. Instead, they designed a way to spark determined opposition. The plan was extreme, and citizens quickly let the school board know it was unacceptable.

The board was right to drop Scenario 1, as the consultants called it, which would have closed Enochville, Faith, Morgan and Mount Ulla elementary schools, in addition to the two schools already under discussion, Cleveland and Woodleaf. Some unfortunate trends developed in the short time the proposal was on the table. While many people simply sought out facts, some responded with anger, suspicion and over-the-top conspiracy theories, much of it driven by attorney Todd Paris and a Facebook page he created.

As always happens in a controversy, some board members also blamed the media, saying the Salisbury Post inflamed passions with large, negative headlines. The Post’s job was to report data, explore school conditions, and convey citizen reaction. That merits big headlines. To do otherwise would have been a failure on our part.

Unfortunately, reaction to the proposal poisoned the well for the Woodleaf-Cleveland consolidation that has been in the works for years. Residents had legitimate concerns about the location of the replacement school, but the atmosphere at a meeting on the issue was more contentious than it might otherwise have been.

Thursday’s vote should not mean the board’s look at consolidation is over. Wagner says there will be no other scenarios. Maybe the board doesn’t need to hear more from the architects on this issue, but this would be a good time to get citizens involved in studying school use and possible solutions. Community schools are important, but so is fiscal responsibility. Having so many empty seats is the equivalent of heating and maintaining several empty schools, something people should get worked up about.

The feverish reaction to the dropped proposal should inoculate the rest of the county against a rash response. The worst may be over; let’s push on. The end result should be a system with fewer but better-maintained campuses. The school system cannot afford to be locked in a time capsule marked, “the way things have always been.”