Editorial: School consolidation starting point

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When North Rowan High School opened in August 1958, a Salisbury Post headline declared, “First Rowan Super-High Colorful and Convenient.” North was the county’s first step away from small community high schools, a process completed a few years later with the construction of East, West and South Rowan.

Now the school system may move toward something like “super” elementary and middle schools, and close North High and Henderson. A proposed capital consolidation plan shared on Monday would close or consolidate 11 schools. Before people start storming school board meetings, let’s keep an open mind about this process and what it means for the county. As Chairman Josh Wagner said at Monday’s school board meeting, the proposal is a starting point, not a final decision.

“I urge you to remain calm and work with us,” Wagner said. “We want to put this plan together with you.”

The fact that Rowan-Salisbury has excess capacity is not a mark against the system — though failing to deal with it would be. North Carolina’s birth rate has been falling since 2007. Between that, the migration of jobs to metro areas and the growth of charter and private schools, other rural school systems are in the same situation.

Residents have to face reality. North Rowan High, for example, has 541 students in a school with room for 1,100. Maintaining 35 school campuses at an average cost of $153,000 each per year adds up to $5.35 million in capital needs, yet the system has only about $2.4 million to do the job each year.

Consolidation could mark a turning point for Rowan-Salisbury toward a more efficient, streamlined system. We can continue spending taxpayers’ money to maintain excess capacity in outdated buildings — or we can make tough choices that would use public funds more effectively.

This is not to say the plan aired Monday should be rubber-stamped. People have valid concerns about long bus rides, the loss of neighborhood schools and thorny redistricting issues. And what if Rowan’s population grows in 10 years?

Take your concerns to the community meetings the school board has set at Salisbury High on Dec. 4; East Rowan High, Dec. 5; Carson High, Dec.11; South Rowan High, Dec. 12; West Rowan High, Dec. 18; and North Rowan High, Dec. 19. All sessions run from at 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Remember that we’re all in this together — every district and town — all on the side of providing maximum education opportunities for every student, at a price Rowan can afford.