Francisco Elementary School closed

The Francisco community packed a public hearing Sunday afternoon to plead with the school board to keep their elementary school open next year. The board decided Monday night to close the school and move the students to Nancy Reynolds Elementary School.

When students from the Francisco community return to school in the fall they will not be attending the school their community has spent years fighting to keep open, but instead will travel an additional eight miles to attend Nancy Reynolds Elementary School.

That was the decision of the Stokes County School Board Monday night in a 3-2 vote, with board members Bill Hart and Jamie Yontz voting nay, to close Francisco Elementary School.

Board Chair Sonya Cox said parents would be notified of the decision later this week and that students would be provided transportation to Nancy Reynolds Elementary School.

Under that plan the longest bus ride could be up to an hour and 45 minutes each direction, a much longer ride than Francisco students currently experience, but on par with the longest ride students at Nancy Reynolds, Lawsonville and Sandy Ridge currently endure, according to Director of Operations David Burge.

Cox said no employees would loose their jobs as a result of the closing and that the school system would begin looking at open positions that needed to be filled elsewhere in the system.

She said she expects the board to consider how to deal with the school property in the next couple of months.

The school system has the option of using the facility for school purposes, such as using it as teacher training center, before offering the property to the county. If the county does not want the property then the school system could donate the property to the Francisco community or chose to try to sell it.

The decision came after a public hearing at the Francisco Community Center, directly across the street from the dilapidated Francisco Elementary School playground, Sunday during which members of the Francisco community pleaded for the school system to keep their school open for one more year to give them a final chance to try to turn the enrollment numbers around through increased community support and offers of grant writing possibilities.

But faced with hard realities, the school board decided to close the school, the first time a school has been closed in Stokes County since schools were consolidated to create North and South high schools.

Those hard realities included a facility report, provided to board members after the Sunday public hearing, which showed the school would need $375,000 in capital improvements to operate for the next one to three years, $3,424,000 in capital improvements to operate for the next three to seven years, and an additional $4,750,000 in capital improvements to operate for more than seven years.

Board members were also provided with a breakdown of per pupil costs of operation which showed that in the 2014-15 school year the system spent $11,825 on each of the 58 students at Francisco. In comparison the average per pupil cost for elementary schools in the county was $8,153, and per pupil costs at neighboring schools Lawsonville and Nancy Reynolds were $7,966 and $9,106 respectively.

Finance Director Lanette Moore said the school system spent $687,554 operating the school in the 2014-15 school year.

Additionally board members were told that with the projected 2015-16 enrolment numbers of 49 students, the state would only pay for two teachers at the school which would require a combination kindergarten through third grade class and combination third through fifth grade class with third graders being split between the two classes.

Superintendent Ronnie Mendenhall said that would require teachers to balance hundreds of different concepts, 94 for math alone, within the same classroom and would result in children learning to count to five sitting next to children solving problems using multiplication and division.

“It is my recommendation that Francisco Elementary School be closed effective now,” he told the board when asked for a formal recommendation.

State Board of Education School Planning Consultant Kenneth Phelps agreed, noting that the closing of the school would be beneficial from both a financial standpoint and from the standpoint of what is best for the students.

“Academic achievement, socialization and the benefit the students can get from the input from other teachers, I would say my recommendation would be to close Francisco,” he told the board Monday. “Looking at the capital needs of Francisco my recommendation would be to close Francisco and move the kids to Nancy Reynolds. I think there are a lot of benefits at Nancy Reynolds that would be very strong for the students. I do not believe the extra 8.2 miles they would have to travel would be a significant issue. That is my recommendation as someone from outside the county looking in.”

For full coverage of the issue, including community reactions, coverage of Sunday’s public hearing and concerns raised about the process by Hart, please see Thursday’s edition of The Stokes News.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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