Commissioners, school board discuss SCS consolidation

The two boards sparred at May 8 joint meeting

County commissioners (left) and school board members (right) interact at joint meeting on May 8 (Courtesy: Stanly County Schools)

ALBEMARLE — Three weeks after moving forward with a two-phase consolidation plan for the local school district, the Stanly County Board of Education hosted a special joint session with the Board of Commissioners to discuss facility plans.

The proposed changes, approved by the school board in a 6-1 April vote, would combine Albemarle, North Stanly and South Stanly High Schools into a combined 1,400-student high school in the eastern part of the county, with a new 600-student elementary school coming to Oakboro.

The North Stanly and South Stanly properties would be sold, while the Albemarle High School building would become Albemarle Middle School, while East Albemarle Elementary students move to the now-vacant middle school.

The second phase would see a new West Stanly High built on the school’s current property, alongside new athletic facilities.

The consolidation efforts for the Stanly County Schools district would likely need to be voted on by county residents in a $190 million bond referendum set for 2026.

During the Stanly School and Commissioners’ joint session, the two boards expressed differing opinions regarding the financial, logistical and educational implications of the proposed plans.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto said the plans were “thrown together,” with School Board Chair Carla Poplin responding: “That’s insulting … This has been long discussed and talked about.”

Throughout the joint meeting that ranged nearly four hours, the topic at hand often alternated between the methods of funding for the project to the overall strategy and effectiveness of the project.

“In the last year and a half, we’ve been talking about a facilities plan and a possible bond, so you guys haven’t done any homework on your side?” Poplin asked the county commissioners. “You’re sitting there telling me you have to talk to a consultant and you have to see what your bond rating is. Have y’all not had any discussion at all? We’ve been talking about this for over a year with your joint committee.”

County Manager Andy Lucas responded that the commissioners had only been recently notified of the project’s proposed final price tag, as much as $200 to 300 million and that the county needed more time to discuss what the cost would do to the county’s tax rate — if ultimately approved by voters in two years.

“To say that we’re dragging our feet is inaccurate,” Lucas said, adding that he wanted the advice of a financial consultant to factor into the situation.

According to SCS Chief Technology Officer Shawn Britt, the facilities plans in question would be a move to address school overcrowding, referencing recent demographer findings that predicted an increase of 1,000 students over the next eight years.

Britt added that the modernization and consolidation of the four high schools in question would be a long-term solution to replace the buildings, each built between 1960 and 1962.

Across the course of the meeting, it was mentioned multiple times that a project of the magnitude currently favored by the school district would span years and eventually be overseen by future commissioners and school board members who were not yet involved in the plans.

Meghan Almond, who will begin her four-year school board term for the county’s At-Large seat in December, signaled her opposition to the new two-phase plan in a social media post following the joint meeting, relaying her view that the county’s residents preferred their smaller community schools and would vote against consolidation.

“My personal opinion is to not waste time on something that wouldn’t be approved,” Almond said. “Our elected officials need to understand what the people want.”

The Stanly County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education are scheduled to hold their next regular meetings on June 3 and June 4, respectively.