First of all, I understand and respect the Haywood County School Board’s decision to consider closing Central Elementary, and I fully understand the challenges that exist in this day and time regarding public education in general and educational funding in particular. I think it is an undeniable reality that our legislators have taken many shortsighted and ill-conceived actions when it comes to our public schools in North Carolina. No matter how many excuses or rationalizations they may offer, no legislator can deny the fact that North Carolina teachers today are paid less than teachers in roughly 42 other states, and that per-pupil funding now lags behind almost every other state in the Southeast (and the Southeast, of course, lags behind the national average on teacher pay and per-pupil funding).
Over the last five or six years the legislature has placed local school systems in increasingly dire straits when it comes to meeting the financial burdens of operating those systems, and the legislators who have supported these actions offer nothing other than excuses and political “spin” for what they have done and why they have done it. So, I do not criticize our local school board for considering every possible cost-saving measure available to them in the face of state-induced shortfalls. But in the case of Central Elementary, I do wish the process leading to this recent announcement had been more transparent and timely. This news has hit most people like a sledgehammer blow.
Furthermore, I do not understand why the final decision has to be made within the very narrow timeframe for public input established by the school board. Would it be asking too much to request that they table action on this very weighty decision for one additional month until parents and other advocates for Central have a reasonable amount of time to recover from the shock of the announcement, gather more information, and perhaps present additional viable options for the school board to consider?
Schools close all the time in our state and nation. That is a fact of life. Adequate funding for schools is becoming more and more problematic, as well. Haywood County has also seen the closing of community schools during my lifetime here. So, closing Central Elementary would not set a precedent, and closing Central might be one of the undeniably “best” — or “less evil” — solutions available to help offset the budget deficit our school board faces.
But I don’t think everything meaningful and/or worthwhile has been said or done at this point in time. I realize, as well, that plans must be made for the next school year before June or July rolls around, and that transitioning to a new organizational structure is complex and time consuming.
That said, however, public school systems have to deal with uncertainty literally every year as they await notification from the state regarding teacher allotment, budgetary allocations, enrollment, etc. So, our administrators are experienced in dealing with making necessary adjustments under less than optimal conditions. Would it, therefore, create an unreasonable or onerous burden on the Haywood County School System to delay for one month a final decision regarding the future of Central Elementary School?
Fortunately, I do not share the responsibility for making this final decision with my friends and former colleagues who serve on the Haywood County School Board. I do not envy them at all, but I respect them for their committed service to Haywood County’s children and their families. I am confident, furthermore, that in the end they will act in what they truly believe is the best possible manner for the overall operation and well being of all Haywood County schools. But I think it would demonstrate a commendable level of respect and consideration on their part to allow the families who will be directly impacted by this decision the benefit of having one additional month to digest the information they recently received, and to allow them to pursue what, if any, other alternatives to closing Central Elementary might be available to them and the School Board.