Haywood Schools at a crossroads

If Central Elementary closes, then what?

coverThe sudden announcement this week that Central Elementary School in Waynesville could be closed in Haywood County has prompted a swirling litany of questions for both parents and the public at large.

• Parents shocked over Central Elementary closing
• Closing Central Elementary emotional for school officials
• Cuts widespread as Haywood faces $2.4 million shortfall

The Smoky Mountain News took a stab and getting some of the more pressing questions answered this week, with more to follow in future editions.

Why close Central instead of another elementary school?

Built in 1956, Central is the oldest elementary school in the county and most costly in terms of maintenance, explained Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

Central is also one of the smallest schools in the county. It has only 230 students.

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But the biggest reason for targeting Central is its close proximity to two other elementary schools in the Waynesville area: Hazelwood and Junaluska. 

Other elementary schools don’t have another elementary school nearby that students could be sent to, and would require long bus routes to get students to the next closest school, Nolte said. 

Where would the students from Central go?

The majority of students would be divided between Hazelwood and Junaluska elementary schools. The exact district lines of where students would be assigned would be formulated in February.

Of the 230 students at Central, roughly 30 come from outside the school district. Those students would be reassigned back to their home school district.

Is there room at Hazelwood and Junaluska to accommodate Central’s students?

Superintendent Anne Garrett said the reallocation of students from Central would not cause overcrowding at either Hazelwood or Junaluska. Both schools are well under capacity, and would still be under capacity even with the addition of Central’s students.

“They will not be bursting at the seams,” Garrett said.

Additional teachers and classes would be added at both schools so that existing class size at those schools would not increase as a result.

Is this a done deal?

Technically, closing down Central is only a proposal at this point. The school board merely voted to study the idea.

But the school system isn’t exactly tossing out the idea as a trial balloon. The school board’s vote Monday night to authorize a study comes months after the school system began assessing the feasibility to closing Central.

School officials have already analyzed budget repercussions, sliced and diced enrollment data, examined how to divvy up Central’s student body among other schools, and projected the potential cost savings.

Why are we just now hearing about it?

The idea to close Central Elementary School has been kept under tight wraps by school officials and school board members. It’s surprising just how well those aware of the proposal have kept it a secret.

Closing Central Elementary has been seriously studied and analyzed for more than three months. But the inner circle of school officials and school board members crunching the numbers and debating the pros and cons haven’t breathed a word of it.

Not even teachers, let alone parents, had caught wind of it before the school board voted late Monday night. Reason being, it would be inappropriate for the school system to talk about the potential of closing Central before the board had formally voted on its consideration, according to school officials.

When is a decision expected?

The school system laid out an aggressive timeline to consider the closure of Central Elementary. Following a public input meeting at Central Elementary at 7 p.m. Jan. 26, the school board plans to make a final decision at its meeting on Feb. 8. If approved, Central would close at the end of the school year.

Why so quick?

The school system must move swiftly to solve the sudden budget shortfall it’s been saddled with.

The school system has softened the blow of state funding cuts in recent years by falling back on its fund balance, savings built up and squirreled away over time.

But it has now used up all the savings it had, and has no where else to turn. Budget cuts must be enacted before next school year begins.

What will the school system do with Central Elementary if it’s shut down?

Garrett said that hasn’t been decided, and declined to offer a guess of what might be.

“We want to not get ahead of ourselves,” Nolte added. “What we are very painfully doing in a very heart wrenching way is to stabilize our budget. The future use of buildings will be determined by the board.”

— By Staff writer Becky Johnson

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Last modified on Monday, 25/01/2016

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