In a contentious decision that pitted public safety against tradition, Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education members voted this week to close O.R. Pope Elementary School. It was not a popular decision among parents – or board members.
The physical condition of the school poses real issues for the safety of students, teachers and administrators. Several board members noted they wanted to do everything they could to keep the school open, but given the financial realities facing education budgets all over North Carolina, the board’s options are limited.
Meanwhile, the liability the system would face if, God forbid, a child, teacher or other person were injured at the school forced the board’s hand. Keeping Pope open without significant building improvements wasn’t a responsible option.
We join the parents, teachers and students – past and present – who mourn the closing of the school. Kindergarten through second-grade students assigned to Pope will attend Fairview Elementary School this fall. Third- through fifth-grade students will students will attend Johnson Elementary.
That’s a temporary solution, but it doesn’t address the bigger problem that faces every Nash-Rocky Mount school located in Edgecombe County.
State money for students and schools is distributed to counties – not to school systems. Since the merger that created Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools 20 years ago, Edgecombe County has turned over money each year for Nash-Rocky Mount to educate students who live on the Edgecombe County side of town.
But trying to persuade Nash County commissioners to invest significant dollars in the upkeep or even building of new schools on the Edgecombe County side of town has been an exercise in futility. And it’s hard to assign blame here. Nash County commissioners answer to Nash County voters. There are plenty of needs in schools in Nash County, too.
Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson has outlined capital needs for the school system for the next 10 years. As the closing of Pope clearly demonstrates, the sooner this community comes together to address those needs, the better.