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Martin board votes for merger

By Staff
Bear Grass, Jamesville schools to close
Staff Writer
WILLIAMSTON — The Martin County Board of Education voted 4-2 Monday night to close two smaller high schools and send the students to Williamston and Robersonville.
Heath was joined by Kenneth Harrell in voting against school consolidation that would close Bear Grass High School and Jamesville High School.
Johnny Bryant made the motion to approve the measure. It was seconded by Moses Matthews and supported by Addie Lou Leggett and Jackie Carr. Based on the motion, consolidation will go into effect next school year.
Through the entire process of the discussion and motion there was constant and loud heckling from the crowd, most of which was made up of supporters of Bear Grass and Jamesville schools.
During the public comment period that began the meeting, members of the crowd in favor of consolidation were asked to stand. Fewer than 10 people got to their feet.
Harrell made an amendment to Bryant’s original motion that all four schools, mascots, colors and names be done away as part of consolidation. He said new ones could be decided later.
Harrell said “before we go, we need to take a look and see what options we have. There are a lot of options that have come up and I don’t think that we’ve looked at them as closely as we need to.”
He then made an apology to the citizens of Martin County that attended a hearing last week, saying the board “did not take heed of their concerns.”
Residents of both Bear Grass and Jamesville have accused members of the school board of fast-tracking the consolidation process.
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.
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 system, 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. That number has been steadily and “continually declining” for 20 years, Daly said.
The school board held a public hearing on the proposed consolidation Jan. 28. Speakers at the hearing, which ran an hour later than scheduled because the number of speakers signed up, overwhelmingly opposed closing the two community schools.
A coalition, which calls itself the Concerned Citizens of Bear Grass and Jamesville, has put an attorney on retainer to sue the school board if consolidation was approved.. The group held two rallies at the Senator Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center to raise money for the attorney fees. Since the first rally the group held Dec. 20, they have raised $26,000 toward a goal of $50,000. They have retained attorney Robert Hunter of Greensboro.
Hunter represented Wake CARES, a group of Wake County residents that sued their school board over redistricting issues.