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This is going to be an important week for Bedford County Public Schools, the Moneta and Body Camp communities and, most importantly, the children the school system serves.
On Monday, the School Board will be conducting a public hearing on potential closing/consolidation of elementary schools in the Staunton River Zone and the resulting redistricting of students. Then, next Thursday, June 5, the School Board will hold a special called meeting to discuss, and potentially vote, to close a school.
Either Moneta Elementary or Body Camp Elementary could be closed as a result of those meetings.
A state-mandated school efficiency review of BCPS released May 15 recommended that Bedford Primary School and Moneta Elementary School be closed in an effort to save $8 million over the next five years. Body Camp and Thaxton Elementary were in a second tier of schools that could be considered, according to the recommendations in the report.
While following the recommendations might not be mandatory, most officials believe that the state would not look with favor on the school system if two schools aren’t closed, one in the Staunton River Zone and one in the Liberty Zone. The General Assembly holds the purse strings to the tune of an extra $6 million a year for the school system and has made it clear that the efficiency study was an important part of receiving those funds. The school system will be expected to implement a majority of the more than 100 recommendations and closing schools is, by far, the biggest money saver amongst the bunch, to the tune of $800,000 per school, per year.
Thinking this recommendation could be ignored is not prudent. Delaying the inevitable, however, might be possible.
If a deal is worked out to repair the septic system at Moneta Elementary this summer, the School Board could delay closing a school for the upcoming school year. But, if that is done, the school being closed would most likely be Body Camp Elementary since it isn’t likely the school board would put up several hundred thousand dollars to repair the system for one year, and then close Moneta.
None of this is easy. Both schools have tremendous community support; both schools have been the center of activity for several generations of students.
To their credit, most of the talk from those opposing closing the schools has been positive. Their stated goal is to voice a unified response that neither Body Camp or Moneta Elementary should be closed. And they have even talked that if a school is closed, it will be more important than ever for the two communities to come together to support the school that remains open and its students. It will be crucial that those sentiments become a reality should a school be closed either this year or next.
The public hearing will take place on Monday, June 2, 7 p.m. in the Staunton River High School auditorium. Anyone who wants to speak at this hearing should contact Sherry Ratliff, School Board Clerk, at 540-586-1045 x-257. Those wishing to speak may also sign up to speak on the evening of June 2 when arriving at the hearing.
This is the time to be heard. And history shows that those who come with facts and reason—instead of venom and accusations—will be heard the best. It’s difficult not to be emotional; just don’t let those emotions boil over into anger, or your message might be lost.
Hang in there. Pray for your schools; pray for those in leadership who must tackle these important and difficult decisions. Pray for the children of these communities.