School Board raises a familiar question about school organization | News

As Warren County schools prepare their budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the school board has raised a familiar question: Should schools be reorganized to use educational facilities more efficiently?

The board began its discussion on whether to consider consolidation, reconfiguration and/or new construction at its work session/business meeting on January 26.

A story of change

Several transformations have taken place within the school system since the 1980s. John Graham High School and Norlina High School were combined to form Warren County High School. A few years later, the local colleges were combined to form Warren County Middle School. New buildings were constructed to house these schools.

In recent years, the emphasis has been on developing small schools of choice. This resulted in the creation of two new high schools – Warren Early College High School and Warren New Tech High School – and the development of college readiness and career academies at WCHS. A building—essentially half of the original design—has been constructed for Warren New Tech with plans to eventually construct the remaining portion. Warren Early College, located on the Warren Campus of Vance-Granville Community College, uses a modular building.

In recent years, grades six through eight were added to Northside Elementary School, which later became Northside K-8 School. Warren County Middle School continues to offer grades six through eight.

Warren County Schools operated with four elementary schools in recent years — Northside, Mariam Boyd, Vaughan and South Warren — until the summer after the 2018-19 school year, when South Warren was closed.

A previous study

After Warren County High School was split into three schools, the question arose of what to do with the classroom space that was no longer in use. The issue has been raised frequently by the Warren County Board of Education during budget discussions with the school system, particularly with reports of declining enrollment.

In 2016, the school system, at the request of the commissioners, paid $7,200 to Szostak Design, Inc. of Chapel Hill and Educational Leadership for Success, LLC of Wilmington to complete a survey of optimal organizational models for schools serving students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The study noted that the school buildings still in use were between 25 and 70 years old and recommended several options that would involve future construction and renovations that could cost between $19 million and $36 million.

New conversation

During the council’s work session/business meeting on January 26, council chair Ebony Talley-Brame and vice-chair Victoria Lehman asked fellow council members and the school system to re-examine opportunities for consolidation. , reconfiguration and new construction.

“Enrollment has gone down over the years, and we have a high school that’s somewhat underutilized,” Talley-Brame said. “We need to think about how best to use our funds.”

Lehman noted county commissioners’ questions about the use of school buildings.

“County commissioners have been asking for building counts and declining listings since 2013,” she said. “The 2016 report was the result.”

She also described the school’s layout as a “flowing line”, saying that when John Graham High School and Norlina High School were combined to form Warren County High School, it was thought that having a larger school would allow students to have better program opportunities than them. would have with smaller schools.

Council members expressed concern that the 2016 school layout study is five years old. After discussing the matter with the Superintendent of Schools, Dr Mary Young, the board requested information on the cost of an updated study.

Priority needs

The board also heard a report from Delores Pulliam, director of school system finance, on needs identified by local schools through the annual budget process.

The contribution is provided by principals and other school system personnel. School system officials then prioritize these needs, with an emphasis on safety. This prioritization, taking into account available funding, will help Warren County schools determine when projects should be completed.

The comprehensive list that was presented to the board identified over 40 needs at an estimated total cost of $2 million. The most expensive jobs on the list are repairing the roof at Warren County High School and replacing the roof at Warren County Middle School at an estimated cost of $1.28 million. Other larger items are cafeteria furniture for elementary schools at an estimated cost of $131,285; Smartboards at Warren County Middle School, Vaughan Elementary School, Warren New Tech High School, and Warren Early College High School, at an estimated cost of $129,636; and an additional modular unit at Warren Early College High School, at an estimated cost of $100,000.

Some needs are related to safety, such as the upgrade of the school bus camera system, the cost of which is estimated at $10,000; parking area lighting at all locations, estimated to cost $8,000; and parking repairs at all locations, estimated to cost $5,000.

Other needs identified range in cost from $200 for Hawkins Educational Center main entrance parking blocks to $90,000 for an activity bus.

The board requested additional information on why each item is needed and for a meeting dedicated solely to discussing budget/priority needs.

A draft budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year is expected to be presented to the board on March 9. If approved, it will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners on March 10.

Jeremy S. McLain