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Rockingham County narrows in on school closure decision

Rockingham County narrows in on school closure decision

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EDEN — South End Elementary School is off the table, but both Dillard and Draper are still under consideration for closure, officials said at an Oct. 30 Board of Education work session.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina State University Operations Research and Education Laboratory presented the Integrated Planning for School and Community study which examined expected future growth over the next 10 years, evaluated capacities of all schools and identified options to better utilize schools and reduce costs.

Through this study, the district identified South End, Draper and Dillard elementary schools as candidates for school closures to cut costs for the financially-ailing district. These recommendations were based on enrollment compared to school capacity, transportation distances for students, respecting neighborhoods, efficient busing and the age and condition of schools.

At the Oct. 30 meeting, OREd followed up with a Transportation Impact Assessment Report which looked at how redistricting options would impact the district’s transportation reimbursement from the Department of Public Instruction.

“This is really pioneering work in the state of North Carolina and you all should be recognized for your leadership in this phase,” said Matthew Palmer, research scholar with the NC State Institute for Transportation Research and Education. “… You have challenged us to find answers to questions that other communities have not asked, and so tonight we share those findings with you.”

Palmer presented four scenarios.

One involved closing Dillard Elementary in Madison and shifting those students to Huntsville and Stoneville elementary schools.

The other three all involved closing Draper Elementary in Eden and redistricting that region in different ways.

The district may close Draper, Dillard, both or neither school.

The district is no longer considering closing South End Elementary in Reidsville, following the district’s decision to plan a UNC-Greensboro-led partnership magnet school at Moss Street Elementary in Reidsville. 

For each proposed scenario, Palmer overviewed how a school closure would impact enrollment at other schools, state reimbursements for bus routing, miles buses would need to drive, bus driver hours and average bus ride time for students.

Numbers of buses are based on an average of buses needed in the morning for pickup and buses needed in the afternoon for drop off.

The data used to conduct the analysis was dated Sept. 26, 2017 and looks at this school year's enrollment.

Western Rockingham County Scenario

Only one scenario was presented that addressed closing Dillard Elementary School.

According to the IPSAC study, the current Dillard student body only meets about 44 percent of the site’s total capacity, the lowest in the county.

In this scenario, the current Dillard attendance zone would be divided and added to the Stoneville and Huntsville Elementary attendance zones. 

About 122 students would transfer to Huntsville and 102 to Stoneville, Palmer said.

State reimbursement for bus routing would increase by 1.2 percent per student based on third quartile percentage change.

The change in routing would also mean that one of Dillard's buses would go to Stoneville, and the other two would go to Huntsville.

The total number of miles driven by buses in this region would increase from 884.5 miles to 917.99 and increase bus driver hours from 34.14 to 35.1.

With the addition of previous Dillard students, bus ride time for the average Stoneville student would increase from 36 minutes to 37 minutes.

For Huntsville, ride time would remain at 39 minutes.

The average bus ride time for a Dillard student currently is about 32 minutes

Superintendent Rodney Shotwell said if the board chooses to close a school in western Rockingham County, he would recommend moving the New Vision School of Science, Math and Technology, a year-round magnet school, to the newer Dillard site and finding a way to preserve the John W. Dillard name.

“We can’t lose the history of that individual,” Shotwell said. “It’s not only important for our county, but it’s also very important for our African American community on that side of the county as well.”

The Dillard site has a higher capacity than the current New Vision site by more than 100 students. This move could allow the magnet school to accept more students.

Eden Scenarios

In each of the three Eden scenarios, Draper Elementary would close. The scenarios differ in how Central, Leaksville-Spray, Douglass and Lincoln elementary schools could be redistricted to compensate for that closure and reduce costs.

According to the IPSAC study, the current Draper student body reaches only 45 percent of the site’s total capacity, the second lowest in the county.

Each of the three scenarios includes Draper students transferring to Lincoln, which the study determined was the third most underutilized at 59 percent capacity.

State reimbursement for bus routing for all three scenarios would increase by 1.4 percent per student based on third quartile percentage change.

Eden Scenario 1

Scenario 1 would alter the attendance zones for all of the northern and northwestern elementary schools in the county.

Draper students would go to Central. Some Central students would go to Leaksville, and some Leaksville students would attend Douglass.

“Douglass is the newest… of the Eden elementary schools and would benefit from a larger utilization rate than it currently has, so this would be bringing more students into Douglass,” Palmer said.

Douglass would increase by 167 students, Central would increase by 88 and Leaksville-Spray would go down by 77. These changes would not push any of the schools over capacity.

Central and Douglass would keep their four and five buses.

Draper’s 2.5 buses and 1.5 of Leaksville-Spray’s 5.5 buses would no longer be needed for a total of about four unnecessary buses.

“In discussions with the district, it’s estimated that the bus level savings on that would be between $4,000 and $5,000 per bus,” Palmer said, adding that potential annual savings would be $16,000 to $20,000. 

The total number of miles driven by buses across the region would decrease from 524.94 miles to 427.95 and bus driver hours would fall from 31.02 to 22.5.

Average bus ride time for a Central student would remain at 21 minutes.

Douglass student ride time would decrease from 24 to 17 minutes.

Leaksville-Spray students’ rides would increase from 13 minutes to 18.

The average ride time for a Draper Elementary student is currently 30 minutes.

Eden Scenario 2

Under this scenario, nearly all current Draper students would transfer to Lincoln.

“From a facilities perspective, a footnote here, this would likely necessitate one, possibly two mobile units at the Lincoln school site as it would then be over capacity of its existing capacities, but it would in effect leave Central, Leaksville and Douglass untouched under this consideration,” Palmer said.

According to Shotwell, a “fairly good used” mobile unit would cost between $60,000 and $70,000 to purchase, bring to the site and hook up to the school.

Shotwell said, “There is a plan for Lincoln in phase three that shows a pod of four classrooms that would be added onto the school which probably in the long run would actually be cheaper to do than it would be to add the trailers because, where our other new elementary schools are long hallways, these four classrooms, you would basically be putting up four walls, a roof and configuring the four classrooms inside there and the pipes are already there capped off ready to go into that addition if that happens too.”

About 179 current Draper students would transfer to Lincoln with about 24 students transferring to Central.

Two of Draper's two and a half buses would go to Lincoln with the remaining half no longer needed.

The total number of miles driven by buses in the Draper/Lincoln area would increase from 442.92 miles to 454.56, but bus driver hours would decrease from 18.87 to 17.33.

Average bus ride time for a Lincoln student would decrease from 45 minutes to 37 minutes, 7 minutes up from Draper’s current average.

Eden Scenario 3

The third Eden scenario again leaves Douglass and Leaksville-Spray unchanged.

Draper students would be more evenly divided between Central and Lincoln to prevent either from going above capacity.

Central would gain about 106 students and Lincoln, 97.

One of Draper's two and a half buses would go to Lincoln. The second would go to Central. The remaining half would no longer be needed.

The total number of miles driven by buses in this region would decrease from 560.5 miles to 559.7 and bus driver hours would decrease from 26.2 to 25.2.

Average bus ride time for a Lincoln student would decrease from 45 minutes to 41 minutes, about 11 minutes more than Draper’s average.

For Central, average ride time would drop from 21 minutes to 19, about 11 minutes less than Draper’s average.

What’s Next?

The school board did not make any decisions during this work session.

Rockingham County Schools will present the redistricting proposals to the public in conjunction with a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Nov. 9 at the Rockingham County High School auditorium.

Follow the public hearing, officials will make their recommendations to the school board and invite a decision at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting.

For more information on OREd studies at Rockingham County Schools and redistricting options and maps, visit and click on RCS Pathway to Transparency.

Contact Justyn Melrose at (336) 349 -4331, ext. 6140 and follow @JMelrose_RCN on Twitter.

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