Dr. Gene Moore served as a superintendent in both Cleveland County and Stanley County when those counties merged smaller districts into one county-wide system. According to Moore, potential cost-savings is “the wrong reason for a merger.”
Following recent Mount Airy News articles that examined the possibility of merging Surry County’s three school systems into one system, Surry County Commissioner Larry Phillips pointed out a provision under North Carolina law that would require the county to fund the larger merged district at the highest level of per pupil funding within the three districts, over the course of the past five fiscal years in the event of a commissioner-ordered merger in the county.
In Surry County that would mean that if county commissioners ordered a school district merger they would have to fund the merged district at the same level of per pupil funding as the Elkin City School district, which reaps the benefits of an added 12.2 cent property tax. The Mount Airy City Schools are funded, in part, by their own 10 cent supplemental property tax.
According to Phillips the costs associated with elevating the other two districts, once merged, to the funding level of the Elkin schools would equate to about $7.4 million in additional county funding, though it’s not clear if how long funding levels would have to remain at that level. Moore, who has had a front-row seat to two school mergers said, in short, that Phillips is spot-on in his evaluation of the matter.
“The merger came at a pretty substantial cost in Cleveland County. Taxes had to be raised,” said Moore. “It’s probably the state that benefits (financially) from a school merger.”
Moore added that there was some cost savings associated with administrative positions in Cleveland and Stanley counties. However, the former North Carolina superintendent said that it’s highly unlikely that those savings would outweigh the costs associated with the legal mandate to increase the merged district’s funding.
Moore did say that the merger in Cleveland County helped the county to better utilize facilities available throughout the three original districts. “In some instances, you had to drive past one high school to get to the one a student was attending,” commented Moore. “We were able to re-draw attendance lines in a logical manner.”
Moore also said that students were able to be shifted from one school to another when attendance lines were drawn, taking advantage of open space in schools which offered the same grade-level instruction as other schools that were over-populated.
According to Moore, in both Cleveland and Stanley counties the boards of commissioners didn’t jump into the matter of school merger. Instead, county commissioners in those counties hired experts to conduct studies weighing the educational benefits and costs of merging school systems.
Moore said that only after seeing the reports of the experts did Cleveland and Stanley County officials decide to order the school systems in those counties be merged.
One matter which Moore touted as a positive of the school mergers in which he was involved is the impact of the mergers on the education that was delivered to students.
“We had three good school systems in Cleveland County,” said Moore. “We were able to pick the best of the best in programs and implement them throughout the (merged) districts.”
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]