Based on discussions this week by the Edgecombe County Board of Education, it appears that Edgecombe County officials are coming closer to a decision to pull their students out of Nash County Public Schools.
“The Edgecombe County commissioners don’t want to spend one nickel on the new school at Red Oak. If we drag on this, we’ll have to pay a portion of that. There is a sense of urgency here,” Edgecombe County school board member Evelyn Wilson said Thursday at a meeting of the school board.
The situation exists because students who live in areas of Rocky Mount that were part of Edgecombe County when the General Assembly merged Nash County Public Schools and Rocky Mount City Schools about 28 years ago attend the school district that recently reverted back to the name Nash County Public Schools.
This situation affects about 1,800 students. Edgecombe County Public Schools currently has about 6,200 students.
But Edgecombe County has to pay Nash County an amount based on the number of Edgecombe County students attending Nash County schools and that rate is higher per student than Edgecombe County pays in local funding for its own students. This funding goes toward funding capital projects in the Nash County system.
For years, Edgecombe County officials have complained that most of that funding went to build and improve schools primarily in the Nash County portion of the district and little was done to buildings in the Edgecombe portion of the district.
At a joint meeting of the Edgecombe County Board of Education and Edgecombe County commissioners in February, Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent Valerie Bridgers told commissioners that she felt that the affected Edgecombe County students were better off staying in the Nash County system because of the lack of resources needed to bring them home properly.
However, Edgecombe County commissioners evidently feel that the “de-merger” is likely to happen. The issue has come to a head because Nash County Public Schools is planning the construction of a new elementary school in the Red Oak area. Edgecombe County officials do not want to fund that school.
Several members of the Edgecombe County school board said Thursday that they want all funding from Edgecombe County to go to provide for capital projects on the Edgecombe side of the district. School board member Ann Kent said the system needs to be fairer.
“Is it possible to say that we will give them the money we owe them this year, but we want it to be used on our children? The facilities on the Edgecombe side are in pitiful shape and the money needs to be used on those schools. That would make the transition go easier for us,” she said.
But that is not likely to happen.
Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis said in an interview Friday that his board is committed to following the funding formula as it has been set up by the General Assembly.
“The money is to be used for capital projects with the Nash County school district and the only capital project happening now is the construction of the new consolidated elementary school. We are already committed to that project,” he said.
The current legislation does allow for a loophole. If Edgecombe County refuses to pay their portion, the de-merger is pretty much automatically ensured. But Edgecombe County would then be fully responsible for its own students.
“The ball is in their court,” Davis said.
Edgecombe County commissioners are seriously pursuing that course of action. They tasked the school board with coming up with a plan to bring those students home and put them in a position where Edgecombe County dollars would be spent solely on Edgecombe County students.
On Thursday, the school board discussed the issue and made a series of recommendations of what it would take to accomplish that task.
The school district would need three major elements, they said.
First, they would need from 12 to 24 months or more to accomplish the transition. Secondly, they would need funding for a special coordinator to oversee the transition. And thirdly, they want a plan that would allow the de-merger to affect students in grades K-5 at first and for other grades to be gradually phased in later.
Such a plan would allow students in high school to stay in their current schools until graduation and would ease the process of absorbing nearly 1,800 students into the district.
Davis said that Nash County commissioners are willing to help the transition if Edgecombe County commissioners decide to make the move.
“We would welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives from each of the four boards to discuss the issue,” he said. “So far, no one has contacted us.”
School board members also want a sense of commitment from Edgecombe County commissioners to fairly fund all Edgecombe County students.
“Sometimes the county commissioners don’t always speak up on our behalf. We want to make sure that our children are supported,” school board member Marva Scott said at the meeting.
“The children need to be the driving force. I know this is about money, but it is about money that impacts the lives of children. We need a clear, strategic, transparent plan,” she said.
The next step in the process will be a joint meeting between Edgecombe County commissioners and the Edgecombe County school board to decide on how to move forward. No date has yet been set for that meeting.