OXFORD — Granville County’s school board has agreed to a timeline that could have members making decisions by the end of June about closing more of the district’s schools because of system-wide enrollment declines.
Presented by board Chairman David Richardson, the timeline envisions the board beginning its debate on the issue on May 3, with members outlining any ideas or principles they think should govern the process.
By the end, the board and administration should have settled on a list of closure studies, and drafts of them should be ready in time for another meeting on May 17. Board members would be able to ask for revisions or additions on June 7, ahead of a forum on June 14 to gather public comment.
A special board meeting on June 29 would be the time to deliberate and make decisions, Richardson said, adding that he envisions that any consolidations or mergers would take effect in the 2022-23 school year, rather than in 2021-22.
He acknowledged that the schedule is “more compressed” than the one that in early 2019 saw the board decide to close Joe Toler-Oak Elementary School.
But he said the reason to move quickly is that “we’re already having schools hear rumors” about possibility closures, which he worries could affect student performance on end-of-grade tests.
The Toler closure was one of two in 2019 affecting schools on the northern end of Granville County, with Mary Potter Middle School in Oxford being the other. Board members are now under financial and political pressure to address schools in the southern end of the county.
They’ve for a while now had staff studies looking at Creedmoor and Wilton elementary schools as possible closure targets, and recently heard county commissioners voice a decided lack of interest in paying $23 million to $30 million for a renovation of G.C. Hawley Middle School.
Some commissioners — who control the flow of local subsidies to Granville County Schools — urged the board to consolidate South Granville and Granville Central high schools and convert one of those campuses into a middle school to replace Hawley.
The Granville school district, like its neighbor to the north in Vance County, entered consolidation mode after losing a considerable amount of students to charter schools state legislators have encouraged and promoted as an alternative to traditional K-12 systems.
Richardson and other officials acknowledged that recent turnover means there are several relatively new school board members who will be wading into a closure debate for the first time, and promised that they will receive all the information and documents they need for their background research.
One of the holdovers, Tom Houlihan, urged his colleagues to see and debate the issue as a reorganization of the Granville school system and its programs, and make decisions accordingly.
Making “one decision about one school because we’re in a hurry would be a mistake,” Houlihan said, adding that one of the things officials have to face is that all three of the system’s high schools are too small, enrollment-wise.
Board member Amanda LaBrecque, one of the newcomers, asked officials why prior discussions on closing elementary schools have focused on Creedmoor Elementary and Wilton.
Stan Winborne, assistant superintendent for operations and human resources, answered that Butner-Stem Elementary fell out of the debate for being on the western side of the district, while Mount Energy and Tar River elementaries were new or relatively newer facilities compared to the others.
There was no opposition to approving the timeline Richardson proposed.
“We’ve kicked this can down the road long enough,” member Leonard Peace said, adding that his only concern is whether the district staff will be able to “come up with what we want if we need additional information.”
Contact Ray Gronberg at email@example.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.