School Board votes to close Oak Hill School

LENOIR, NC (May 14, 2020) — After a lengthy and comprehensive process involving advisory committee meetings, teacher discussions, and community input, the Board of Education voted on Thursday, May 14, 2020 to close Oak Hill School.

“This is difficult,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Phipps, “everything we look at has an impact, and doing nothing also has an impact.”

The school board unanimously adopted scenario #2 of nine considerations on whether the school should continue operations or close its doors. In scenario #2, Oak Hill School closes and current Oak Hill students will be reassigned to Dudley Shoals Elementary, Lower Creek Elementary, William Lenoir Middle and Hibriten High starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

Board member Ann Edwards requested adjustments to this option. Superintendent Phipps responded and the following will be provided to students currently enrolled at Oak Hill School:

• A period for students to submit a transfer request to schools that are open to transfers.

• Any athletic eligibility penalties applicable to school transfer will be waived.

• Students enrolling at Dudley Shoals Elementary may follow the feeder school pattern to South Caldwell High School.

“This has not been an easy decision for me,” said Joe Sims, board member. “My grandfather and parents went to Oak Hill High School, and I have family and friends that have gone there and they’re still attending Oak Hill. It’s not been easy for any board member, but this decision has to be made to balance our budget.”

Before the vote, board members were involved in an intensive study that spanned over several months. School auditors strongly recommended that the Board of Education make major changes to its budget. The fund balance depletion became a critical budgetary matter and the district immediately instituted a savings of $1.1 million in 2018-2019. By modifying services and absorbing more than 100 staffing positions, the district saved an additional $1.5 million this school year but still faced a $1 million shortfall.

“We are not in a situation where we can do nothing and it will not get better on its own,” said Chris Bumgarner, School Board member.

Superintendent Phipps recapped a timeline of steps School Board members had taken to make an informed decision, which included face-to-face discussions with faculty and staff, parent meetings, virtual public meetings, advisory committee question-and-answer sessions, and a public hearing. The latter two resulted in 75% supporting school closure.

“You’ve been given lots of information,” said Phipps. “But I would prefer more information than not enough.”

Phipps reminded the School Board that he had the ability now to place every Oak Hill School employee in vacancies throughout the school district. He also reviewed the implausibility of utilizing other suggestions, such as redistricting, COVID-19 stimulus money earmarked for specific funding sources, and a countywide .25 cent sales tax. Furthermore, he stated that he would continue to monitor class sizes; school bus routes and commutes; and school choice from William Lenoir to Hibriten and Granite Falls Middle to South Caldwell. Phipps said that he plans to hold discussions on the future use of the Oak Hill School facility.

“I am truly understanding of this difficult decision, and I’ve spent much time examining all of the options,” said Ann Edwards. “However, it is my belief that through mutual trust and respect, the Caldwell County Schools will continue to love, care for and educate every single student that enters our doors.”