07/10/08 — North Duplin tapped for closure by school board

View Archive

North Duplin tapped for closure by school board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 10, 2008 1:46 PM

CALYPSO -- North Duplin Jr./Sr. High School supporters will gather tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Calypso Fire Station to marshal their forces to oppose a move by the Duplin County Board of Education that would close the school.

Meanwhile, Henry Carr, chairman of the school's advisory board, lambasted the school board's Tuesday night vote to consolidate North Duplin Jr.-Sr. High, James Kenan High School and B.F. Grady Middle School as "underhanded."

"I was dumbfounded (by the vote)," Carr said.

"It was done as underhanded as can be," Carr said. "It was written into the agenda after the meeting started. It was done on the sly to ensure no one from North Duplin was there when the vote was taken."

Carr said county residents have lost faith in the school board and a leadership that "is ripping the county apart."

"We have fought hard for keeping our community school of 50 years before," Carr said. "The school is the soul of the community."

Carr questioned how a school system that is strapped for cash can find the money to build a new high school.

"Also, if they can't run a small school, how can they run a large school?" he said. "How can they afford it?"

He said the school board has failed to address the schools' real problems.

A new school is proposed in the school board's facilities plan even though no location has been decided on or property purchased. The tentative site is in the Westbrook Crossroads community in the James Kenan district.

Voting against the decision were school board members Jennings Outlaw and Willie Gillespie. Carr expressed appreciation to Outlaw and Gillespie for their support of the North Duplin School District.

The facilities discussion was added to the agenda by board member Reginald Kenan at the start of the meeting, said Outlaw, who will be at tonight's meeting. Kenan could not be reached for comment prior to presstime Thursday morning.

"I did not expect anything on facilities, There had been no discussion about it coming up," Outlaw said.

Outlaw said he could not understand why the board would have taken such a vote in view of the numerous ongoing controversies including current mediation with county commissioners over local funding, taxes and the James Kenan School of Engineering.

He said he had not been in favor of the mediation and possible court showdown with commissioners.

"Now they (school board) are getting on a even more controversial issue," Outlaw said. "There is a lot of opposition from the B.F. Grady and North Duplin areas. They (school board) have not made much of an effort to bring the communities into the decision," he said.

When it was first proposed to consolidate B.F. Grady and James Kenan some 200 B.F. Grady supporters showed up on short notice to voice their opposition, Outlaw noted.

Outlaw said he did not know how the inclusion of North Duplin would change plans for the location of a new school. He estimated it would cost between $60 million to $70 million to build the school and another $15 million to $16 million for facilities to relieve overcrowding at B.F. Grady. Even more is needed to fund work at Charity Middle School, he said.

Under the plan some students would have to travel long distances from the Pink Hill and Serecta areas to the new school.

That, he said, did not make sense in light of spiraling fuel prices -- something he had pointed out at Tuesday's meeting.

"They (school board) are driving up transportation costs," he said.

He said East Duplin High School students already have a "fair distance" to drive, but the plan discussed Tuesday could mean even longer trips.

Also, while not a critical issue, there is no town near the area that was considered for the B.F. Grady/James Kenan plan, he said.

Outlaw said that he was supportive of James Kenan, but that he could not support a new school in that district that would slight B.F. Grady.

"I don't mind a building in the James Kenan district, but not at the cost of B.F. Grady," he said.

Outlaw said there was no plan in place for consolidating the three schools -- there is just the original plan to consolidate B.F. Grady and James Kenan.

"I have said all along that the plan was not well planned or well thought out," he said.

He said the proposal could lead to a split in the B.F. Grady district -- a violation of school board policy.

Outlaw said the policy has been for students who start kindergarten together to continue together all the way through high school. Splitting the district would send some students to East Duplin at Beulaville and the others to the new school.

"That would not be good and it would be against the policy goal," he said.

Outlaw said people were still upset with the school board's decision to fold the James Kenan School of Engineering back into the high school.

"That isn't a dead issue," he said.

And he agreed with Carr about the community's view of the board.

"The perception I have is that the community lacks confidence in the (board's) leadership," he said.