There is an awful lot of misinformation being spread in regard to having or not having a consolidated high school in Simpson County.
First, the public needs to know that the Simpson County Board of Education is only exploring this as an option. There would be no point in having this discussion if the property they’re looking at, the former Pioneer Health facility in Magee, is not available. Hence the special called meeting with the property owners last week to discuss their openness to selling.
The school board, again on a split decision, authorized the board president to contact the property owners, two of which are Trustmark and a commercial investment company. The purpose was to determine whether, if the county were to secure funding through a bond issue, would these parties have interest in selling the buildings to the county. So this idea that’s floating around of consolidation being a done deal is far from the truth.
The school board chose to go into executive session for their meeting Wednesday afternoon. It is well within their purview to do that, and perhaps they had a legitimate reason for doing so. But if they want the community to support their plan they would be better served to have open meetings and encourage open discussion.
A few years back school leaders discussed having a consolidated high school in the county near the CoLin Center on Highway 49. The cost of this facility, starting from ground zero with construction, was to be in excess of $30 million. Now the school board has the option of acquiring property that will only need renovation for about $3.5 million.
There is opposition from some quarters to having a consolidated school, of course.
One reason we have heard against it is the length of time it would take for students from the west side of the county to get to Magee. That is a reasonable argument, but if students from Harrisville or Braxton, let’s say, are going to Mendenhall now, it is less than ten minutes more than they are already traveling to come on to Magee.
Another question is how many tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders ride buses?
Other people are questioning the limitations on opportunities to be in certain programs like sports. But consolidation would give our schools the chance to compete on a higher level, 5-A. Students would also have additional class offerings, for example in fine arts and foreign different languages; the list goes on.
Educational expenses can be reduced because we won’t be replicating programs at two schools.
I am not sure that a large bond issue would pass now because recent attempts have failed. But if some public opposition is just the old Magee vs. Mendenhall mentality, we need to put that idea to rest and do the right thing for our children.
We also need to decide something soon. Right now Mendenhall High School is asking to build a ballfield that may cost as much as $3 million dollars. New buildings were built at the Magee Elementary and then it was abandoned. A new fieldhouse is being built in Magee. Where is the logic of spending this money if the future of the high schools is going to change?
Mendenhall Jr. High needs to be closed and its students absorbed into other schools. If that happens this would be a good time to consider high school consolidation.