Friday, February 26, 2016

Lost jobs, declining enrollment leading to school closures in western North Carolina mountains

A downturn in the economy in rural Western North Carolina's mountains is putting the future of local schools in jeopardy. Haywood County officials voted earlier this month to close an elementary school at the end of this school year, while Mitchell County has closed two schools in recent years, Julie Ball reports for The Citizen-Times in Asheville. Haywood County schools have lost 745 students in the past 10 years, with more than half of the lost enrollment occurring in the past two years. Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte told Ball, "From our point of view, the people of child bearing age don’t have the job availability that they used to have in our area. They’re moving to places where there are jobs, and our overall population is a graying population." (Asheville Now map)
Mitchell County's closings are largely blamed on "a shifting economy and the loss of jobs in textiles and furniture contributed to the changing demographics that mean fewer children in county schools," Ball writes. Rick Spurling, Mitchell County's superintendent, said he expects there to be more restructuring in the future, with enrollment projected to continue to fall. Spurling said in 1983 district enrollment was about 3,400 to 3,500, but has now fallen to 1,900. He said the district loses about 45 students per year, which amounts to losses of $300,000.

In Buncombe County, site of Asheville, enrollment is down by about 1,000 students compared to 2011-12, according to officials numbers, Ball writes. "But at least some of that reduction is tied to the opening of two charter schools. The district's total enrollment numbers about 24,600." School officials don't expect to close any schools in the near future, calling that move a "last resort." (Read more)

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