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EDEN — A recent poll of the community by Rockingham County Schools found that 53 percent of those surveyed support closing one, two or three schools in the county while 47 percent believe the district should not implement any of the proposed scenarios.

These and other poll results were announced at the June 12 Rockingham County Board of Education meeting.

From April 25 to May 16, Rockingham County Schools administration toured the county hosting public meetings. At these meetings, administrators explained to the public that due to RCS’s budget shortfall, the district is considering closing and repurposing Draper Elementary School in Eden, South End Elementary School in Reidsville and/or Dillard Elementary School in Madison.

Both online and at these meetings, RCS invited the public to respond using an anonymous feedback form; 389 people participated in the poll.

The poll results found that 29.3 percent of voters suggest closing one, two or three of the schools in the 2018-19 school year, 23.7 percent of voters suggest closing one, two or three of the schools over the course of three school years starting in 2018-19 and 47 percent of voters believe the district should not go with any of these options.

On June 5, RCS shared these results with the Parent Advisory Council, which in turn made suggestions as to what the district should do based on this data.

Draper Elementary School

Poll voters responded to two possible scenarios for the Eden area.

The first scenario would involve closing Draper and realigning 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 Ruffin.

The poll found that 28 percent support this scenario, 46.5 disagreed and 24.2 did not have a preference. The remaining percentage did not understand the scenario.

Sonja Parks, assistant superintendent of operations and logistics, added the supporters and indifferent voters to 52.2 percent in her presentation to the board, which surpasses the percentage in disagreement.

The alternative scenario for Eden would be to close Draper and transfer those students to Lincoln.

The poll found that 24.2 percent supported this scenario, 49.4 percent disagreed and 24.7 percent had no preference.

The total of those who support this second Eden scenario and those with no preference adds up to 48.9 percent which is still less than those who disagree.

“When looking at the Eden feedback from our (Parent Advisory Committee), they recommended that we absorb Draper into Lincoln but split the middle school/high school feeder,” Parks said. “Then they also mentioned that Lincoln could be a bit overcrowded and could some of Draper students go into Central? So that's something that in this planning stage we will need to look at as a team."

Dillard Elementary School

For western Rockingham County, the current proposal involves closing Dillard and dividing the school’s student population between Stoneville and Huntsville Elementary schools.

The poll found that 36 percent supported this scenario, 28.8 percent disagreed and 33.4 percent had no preference.

“The recommendation here from our (Parent Advisory Committee) was to move New Vision (Elementary School) to Dillard, repurpose the old New Vision,” Parks said. “They also recommended a tutoring center in the building, Dillard or New Vision, combine New Vision and Dillard and make it a year round, and another recommendation was a parent resource center in the repurposed building.”

South End Elementary School

Finally, for the Reidsville area, the current proposal involves closing South End and dividing its population between Moss Street and Monroeton schools, as well as transferring some Monroeton students to Williamsburg Elementary.

The poll found that 32.9 percent support this scenario, 31.1 disagree and 32.9 have no preference.

“The (Parent Advisory Committee is) recommending to repurpose South End in the 2018-19 school year, provide additional resources to Moss Street to create more diversity,” Parks said. “They talked about a pilot program that we've been working with at both Moss Street and Wentworth this year called Rockin' Classrooms of the Future. They also mentioned a magnet or IB program.”

The school district has not yet made any final decisions on closing or repurposing schools.

The four 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.

According to Superintendent Rodney Shotwell, if any schools close, the teachers would follow the students to new schools, retaining their jobs but at a new location.

RCS faces financial hardship

Discussions around school closures sparked from a need for Rockingham County Schools to cut about $4.2 million.

The school system requested a $1 million increase in funding from the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners to help contribute to that, but the commissioners chose to give the school district the same amount in funding to capital outlay and operating budgets as last year.

The school system 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.

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.

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.

To find more about the studies mentioned, redistricting options and maps, visit www.rock.k12.nc.us and click on RCS Pathway to Transparency.

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

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