Plans for the upgrade or building of new middle and high schools in Mecklenburg County are heading into phase II. For those that are not familiar I will provide a brief update. Bluestone and Park View middle and high schools were built in the early 1950’s. The infrastructure of these buildings is very worn and needs to be upgraded or replaced. A variety of surveys and plans toward this goal have been considered many times over the past 20 years but to no definitive conclusion. The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors hired the architectural firm of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates (CR&A) in December of 2015 to develop a community study to determine if the current buildings need to be replaced and, if so, what would be the best option. The Board of Supervisors and the MCPS School Board met together this past January to form a joint Steering Committee to oversee the process.
Phase 1 of the project, the Best Practices Planning, started soon after the two Boards identified 25 community leaders to serve on the Steering Committee. This phase has focused on the process of collecting community surveys, conducting an assessment of the four school facilities, and engaging public hearings at Park View High School and Bluestone High School. The results of these initial programs have been well covered by the local press and have produced interesting community, school staff, and student opinions. It is very clear that a large majority of our community recognize that the current facilities are not adequate for our students’ educational needs.
Phase II will concentrate on identifying the preferred choice for the new facilities. We discovered through the surveys and hearings that there are several options that are available for consideration. Options include:
- · Major renovations to all four buildings at their current location.
- · Building four new middle and high school facilities.
- · Consolidating the middle and high school facilities on both sides of the county. The middle and high school programs would remain separate but would share common use areas like kitchens and athletic facilities.
- · Consolidating all four schools into one large campus with shared common areas for middle and high school.
- · Consolidating the high schools in a middle area of the county and upgrading the current high schools to move the middle schools to those locations.
There is much work to be done to determine which option will be selected. A schedule has been determined for this process. Steering Committee workshops will take place on March 23, April 7, April 21, and May 5. The first of these meetings will focus on establishing a vision of what schools should look like as we prepare students to be successful with career and college in this high-tech, global economy. I’ve used this column over the past several weeks to establish a foundation for what a 21st Century school should look like. How can this vision be developed into structures within the context of the facility options and what will each cost? Once the Steering Committees work with CR&A to work this out the public will be invited again to review the options, ask questions, and give voice to your preference. Public reviews and hearings will be held at each of the four elementary schools:
- · South Hill Elementary; May 11, 7:00 PM in the cafeteria
- · Chase City Elementary; May 12, 7:00 PM in the cafeteria
- · LaCrosse Elementary; May 18, 7:00 PM in the cafeteria
- · Clarksville Elementary; May 19, 7:00 PM in the cafeteria
Upon completion of public hearings and input the Steering Committee will have follow-up meetings on June 9 and 23 to make final decisions of what options will be pursued.
Cost is going to play a major roll in determining which option will be chosen. This cost must be considered from the perspective of what gives us as a county the best return on investment (ROI). Mecklenburg County is very unique among rural counties in Virginia because it is poised for significant economic development. One of the few limitations for growth is the perception that we have a poor k12 education system. Business wants two characteristics from an education system; programs that will produce the workforce they need, and one that they will be proud for their children to attend. These characteristics are measured in two ways: the actual preparation of the students, and the looks of the school facilities. We will take care of the first through our focus on career literacy, advanced academics, development of skill credentials, and critical community partnerships. The second characteristic will be determined by the choices made with the building options.
I am working with school staff and the School Board to create the 2016-17 budget. Like the phases of the capital improvement project this takes much thought and time. State law requires that we present a preliminary budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors by April 1. It is quite appropriate that the two Boards have to consider the costs of the 2016-17 budget along with the cost of the capital improvement project. Both are expensive. Next year’s budget for the schools will include a 2% increase in salary for staff that was passed by our General Assembly this year, a 1% increase for teacher retirement, and an 8.7% increase in health insurance. NONE of these are decisions of the local Board. Some might ask, “Do you want to have an increase in these expenses of the budget or updated/new schools?” My response to this is to work for BALANCE. Keep in mind that the student’s interaction with the teachers inside the school building is as important as what the schools looks like. We must maintain a high quality teaching staff. We must also do all that we can to be RESPONSIBLE with the local taxpayer’s funding. It will take an investment with the teachers and the facilities to get the best ROI!