Attorney on standby for Martin residents

Published 1:52 am Thursday, January 24, 2008

By Staff
Plan to take legal action if schools closed
Staff Writer
Bear Grass and Jamesville high school students could learn as early as Feb. 4 whether or not they’ll have schools next year. The Martin County Board of Education is on track to close those schools, pending a public hearing and a vote a week from Monday.
To stop that from happening, a coalition, which calls itself the Concerned Citizens of Bear Grass and Jamesville, has hired an attorney to sue the school board if it votes to consolidate. That vote is expected to come at the board’s regular meeting Feb. 4.
Martin County has four high schools, Bear Grass High School, Jamesville High School, and Roanoke and Williamston high schools.
The group is rallying tonight to raise money for legal services and to inform the public of the negative effects closing Bear Grass and Jamesville would have on those communities. The rally will start at 7 p.m. at the Sen. Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center.
Since the first rally the group held Dec. 20, they have raised $26,000. Phil Hodges, who is spearheading the effort against consolidation said the group’s goal is to raise $50,000 for legal services if the school board votes to close the schools. The group has hired a lawyer, who is on standby until after the school board’s Feb. 4 meeting.
Hodges would not specify what sort of legal action the group would take against the school board.
The school board is required by law to hold a public hearing on the proposed consolidation, which has been set for Jan. 28 at the Williamston Auditorium, located at Williamston High School. The hearing will last two hours. Registered speakers will have three minutes each to plead their case for or against consolidation. That leaves time for 40 speakers.
When Bear Grass resident Jill Beck signed up Tuesday to speak at the hearing, she was number 32.
Hodges said he hopes the school board will listen and choose not to close the high schools.
Martin County Schools Superintendent Tom Daly said in a previous interview that consolidation would help to ease concerns about aging facilities and declining enrollment in the county.
Of the buildings that make up Martin County Schools, 34 percent are more than half a century old and 49 percent are more than 40 years old, according to Daly. The newest building at Bear Grass High School was built in 1975. The next-newest building at the school is from the 1950s, according to Daly.
There are currently 1,254 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grades in Martin County Schools. That number has been steadily and “continually declining” for 20 years, Daly said.
At the regular meeting Dec. 3, the board voted to examine the option of having only two high schools in the county.
The proposed consolidation would move students attending Bear Grass High School to Roanoke High School in Robersonville. It would also send students at Jamesville High School to Williamston High School. Seventh and eighth graders at Bear Grass would move to Roanoke Middle School. Middle school students in Jamesville would remain there until a middle school is built in Williamston, according to Phil Hodges, who is heading the coalition to oppose consolidation.
The Bear Grass move would affect 268 students in grades seven through 12, Hodges said in a previous interview with the Daily News.