REIDSVILLE — Rockingham County Schools completed the last of the district’s four community focus group meetings on May 16, continuing talks of closing or repurposing Draper, Dillard and South End elementary schools.
Since April 25, school officials have hosted these meetings in each of the four zones of the county to inform the public of the district’s budget concerns and gauge public response to the potential school closures.
At the May 16 meeting at Reidsville Middle School, Superintendent Rodney Shotwell explained that, to address the budget shortfall, RCS is considering facility repurposing and closure and student reassignment.
“It is simply a starting point,” Shotwell said of the current options. “I think the one positive thing that has come out of this is there has been a lot of discussion, not only here in Reidsville but in other places in the county. I think it’s always good to have good discourse to talk about what’s best for our kids and what’s best for our county.”
Rockingham County Schools expects that it may need to cut about $4.2 million. The school system plans to request a $1 million increase in funding from the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners to reduce the needed cuts to $3.2 million.
Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzler said at a March board of commissioners meeting, however, that he recommended a 2 percent budget decrease from the sheriff’s office and all departments, including Rockingham Community College and Rockingham County Schools.
“If we are going to suffer as a county, they need to have a little skin in the game as well,” Metzler said in March.
If the county allotment to the school district is reduced, RCS anticipates deeper cuts will be necessary.
The school system also expects a decrease in state funding with the decrease in student population within RCS.
According to data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, average daily membership in Rockingham County schools has gone down each year over the last several years.
“In 2011-12, we had 13,589 students and for this school year … we had 12,380 students, so there has been a steady decline,” Shotwell said. “If you go back further, when I arrived here, there were about 14,700 students in 2006, so things have changed over that period of time.”
The district also expects retirement and health rates to increase, putting further pressure on the school system’s budget.
The school district has already cut $3,037,664 for the 2016-2017 school year including $382,560 by switching to a 168-day academic calendar, $455,000 by reducing office support staff positions and front office staff at all middle and high schools and more.
Based on the numbers presented at the May 16 meeting, closing Draper, Dillard and South End would save RCS about $1,305,909, accounting for cut positions at those schools and the added costs of relocation.
Those savings would equal about 31 percent of the proposed $4.2 million in cuts.
According to Shotwell, if any schools close, the teachers would follow the students to new schools, retaining their jobs albeit at a new location.
“Where it becomes unique would be the principal’s position, bookkeeper, data manager, guidance position, media specialist—the custodians would be absorbed at other schools because they’re always a vacancy somewhere—our instructional coach, cafeteria manager, cafeteria staff,” Shotwell said. “But the thing about this, if we do a plan and we have a year to plan for it, when positions open up at other schools, it would also give people at the schools that might be affected an opportunity to apply and go for another job.”
The school district presented three options: close any or all of the three schools for the 2018-2019 school year, close any or all of the three schools over three years starting at the 2018-2019 school year or do nothing.
The district arrived at the options following the results of the Integrated Planning for School and Community Study conducted by the Operations Research and Education Laboratory at North Carolina State University.
The study found that across the school system, RCS has a capacity of 16,217 students, but only 12,353 are enrolled, meeting 76 percent of the district’s capacity.
According to the study, a majority of schools in Rockingham County are underutilized with 17 of 23 schools, not counting Rockingham Early College High School, at 80 percent capacity or less.
The three elementary schools with lowest population-to-capacity percentages are Dillard at 44 percent, Draper at 45 percent and Lincoln at 59 percent.
The superintendent outlined four redistricting scenarios.
In Eden, Draper could close with all students moving to Lincoln.
A second option for Draper would be to close the school and realign attendance zones such that, some Leaksville-Spray Elementary students would go to Douglass, some Central Elementary students would go to Leaksville Spray and some Draper students would go to either Central or Lincoln.
In Western Rockingham County, Dillard could close, dividing the student population between Stoneville and Huntsville Elementary schools.
In Reidsville, South End could close, dividing its population between Moss Street and Monroeton, and transferring some Monroeton students to Williamsburg.
“I really believe that probably the areas that are going to be the hardest to talk about is going to be right here in Reidsville because of the recommendation that has been shown here,” Shotwell said. “This has probably been the most well attended of the four (community meetings) as well.”
The proposals were designed to help address underutilization of schools while also taking into account transportation distances for students, respecting neighborhoods, efficient busing and the age and condition of schools.
In discussing school closures, Shotwell noted that repurposed schools could become community centers, senior centers or take on other uses.
“One of the suggestions that has been brought up from folks over the last four weeks is that there’s really is not a magnet school on the eastern side of Rockingham County,” Shotwell said. “What if?”
Following the meeting, attendees were invited to submit their response on laptops using the online Pathway to Transparency feedback form.
To access the form or to find more about the studies mentioned, redistricting options and maps, visit www.rock.k12.nc.us and click on RCS Pathway to Transparency. The form will be available until 8 p.m. on May 29.
RockinghamNow reporter Joe Dexter contributed to this article.
Contact Justyn Melrose at (336) 349 -4331, ext. 6140 and follow @jljmelrose on Twitter.