Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe and Mount Airy Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Little both responded to questions regarding mergers in a simplistic and straight-forward manner. Both officials made it clear that they had heard no talks of a school district merger, and both superintendents said that they would not be the ones to start such a discussion.
Little said that he believed few savings could be found in a consolidation move. He pointed out that much of the county’s schools funding is based on the student population. Little said that if a merger did take place, a consolidated district would have the same number of students.
Bledsoe pointed to a consolidation in Cleveland County about a decade ago as an example of why it could be a bad idea.
“They haven’t recovered since,” remarked Bledsoe in reference to the 2004 school district merger in Cleveland County. Bledsoe said that the merger in that county didn’t shake-out as well as officials had hoped. “Those communities still haven’t healed from the merger,” said Bledsoe.
Surry County Superintendent Travis Reeves had little to say about the idea, other than to say “I just don’t want this to become a divisive matter in our county.”
Little and Bledsoe both discussed the benefits of their smaller “community” schools. Little said his district, which was formed in 1895, is “driven by the community.” According to Little the smaller district allows him and his schools to be more flexible in providing educational opportunities to its students.
In short, Little said there is no movement to consolidate. “I haven’t heard a conversation (regarding school mergers) in the community or from state and local officials,” said Little. Little said that by and large Mount Airy residents are happy with the education product his district provides, adding that he nor his school board has initiated any talks of a merger.
“I, nor my board care to initiate a conversation about a merger,” remarked Little
Bledsoe also said that on the local level school merger simply isn’t an issue. “All of our commissioners are happy with our school systems,” remarked Bledsoe.
Bledsoe said that the county’s three school systems’ success contributes greatly to the county’s economic development efforts. “The success of our three districts draws in companies,” said Bledsoe, “the first thing they look for is great schools.”
According to Bledsoe the possible savings that could be gained from a merger just isn’t there. “When you look at general discussion, people claim that every central office is too heavy,” said Bledsoe, “when you actually look at the numbers we are pretty much operating on bare bones.”
Bledsoe said that “deep emotional connections” between communities and their schools make any consolidation effort hard. He said when you weigh that and the fact that all three districts provide excellent educational opportunities against what Bledsoe calls “minimal savings” that might be achieved with a merger, a consolidation move just wouldn’t make sense.
“Central office operations account for less than 1 percent of our annual operating budget,” said Bledsoe, “Do you really want to merge over 1 percent?”
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or email@example.com.