School Board to pick second school to close

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Tour, public hearing set for this week

By Tom Wilmoth

    Having received more than 100 recommendations to improve efficiency in the school system, Bedford County Public Schools has already taken steps to work on or complete around 25 percent of those.
    And in the upcoming few weeks, one of the most controversial of those recommendations will take center stage.
    On Thursday, the Bedford County School Board will tour both Bedford Primary School and Thaxton Elementary School as members begin to look at which elementary school to close in the Liberty attendance zone. The board has already voted to close Body Camp Elementary at the end of this year and the state-mandated efficiency review recommended closing two schools with BPS and Thaxton the two major targets in the Liberty zone.
    Following the board’s tour of the two schools on Thursday—6 p.m. at Bedford Primary and 7 p.m. at Thaxton—a public hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, Sept. 2 at Liberty High School auditorium at 7 p.m. Anyone wishing to speak at this hearing should contact Sherry Ratliff, School Board Clerk, at 540-586-1045 ext. 257. You may also sign up to speak on the evening of September 2 when you arrive at the hearing.
    On    Thursday,   September  11,  the school board will hold a special called meeting at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Bedford Science and Technology Center to discuss and possibly take action regarding closing one of those two schools and the resulting redistricting of students. No public comment will be received at this meeting, but it will be open to the public. This meeting will be held prior to the regular school board meeting which will take place at 7 p.m. in the School Board Office Conference Room.
    During last Thursday’s regular meeting Susan Kirby told school board members that Bedford Primary shouldn’t be closed.
    She noted that the school was on public water and sewer and that projected maintenance work on BPS is considerably less that what is projected at Thaxton Elementary. She added that closing Bedford Primary would precipitate the need to expand Bedford Elementary School.
    Both communities have been working to show their support for their respective schools. Bedford Primary recently had a week of landscaping work performed at the front and side of the school by a group of volunteers while Thaxton Elementary has had a visible presence at recent school board meetings.
Work session
    On Thursday, the school board held a work session to begin looking at the key elements of the recommendations included in the efficiency review. School administration had ranked the projects with 12 having the highest priority and another 38 in the second highest category. Of those, six recommendations have already been completed and numerous others are currently being addressed.
    Those labeled “in progress” include a reorganization of Central Office staff as well as the closing of Body Camp and one other school. That step is projected to save $1.6 million a year. In addition, many of the school systems mobile units have been placed out of service including 14 two classroom units and two, one-room units. Two mobile units were sold last week for a total of $6,000.
    A safety and security review has also been conducted, including looking at whether the railroad line that runs in proximity to Thaxton Elementary poses any threat.
    Other top priority recommendations include implementing an automated time-keeping system and working to provide greater bandwidth throughout the school division. The work session will be continued prior to the Oct. 2 regular school board meeting.

Regular meeting
    Following Thursday’s work session, the board learned that state law now requires schools to provide a private, comfortable room where students who have infants or teachers with infants less than a year old can go to pump breast milk. It cannot be a restroom and it must be shielded from public view.
    The board also heard policy updates prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes on school buses or school property.
    The board also decided, at a division level, to begin utilizing social media as a way to promote activities, news or other information to parents and students.
    The board received an update from a variety of departments within the school system on the first few days of school. School enrollment was down by about 100 students from what had been projected. The school system has 65 new teachers this year, including 18 who are in their first year of teaching. Currently there were about 20 vacancies in a variety of areas.
    The school system’s access to bandwidth has increased significantly. The school system expects the arrival of 14 new buses in October.