STOKES COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Stokes County Board of Education is facing an unprecedented challenge as it navigates the difficult decision of closing schools due to budgetary limitations and changing population trends.

The school system’s current expense budget, amounting to $17 million, is facing a substantial reduction of $2.8 million, which is equivalent to a 16.5% cut. County commissioners, who control local funding, emphasize that responsible budget adjustments are essential to address the financial shortfall without resorting to significant tax hikes.

With 19 schools in the county, the school board is now compelled to make the tough call of closing and consolidating some of these institutions.

Schools potentially impacted by these changes include Lawsonville Elementary, Sandy Ridge Elementary, Pine Hall Elementary and London Elementary.

The significance of the situation is not lost on the community.

“You’re talking about probably one of the biggest decisions ever in Stokes County education,” said Andy Ferguson, a Sandy Ridge resident.

“We’re being pressured by the county commissioners to close schools and consolidate and try to eliminate some of our costs,” said Chairman of the Stokes County School Board Von Robertson.

The initial focus on the northern part of Stokes County is driven by declining enrollment figures. Sandy Ridge Elementary, with 160 students, and Lawsonville Elementary, with 120 students, have come under scrutiny due to their relatively low student numbers.

“I really feel like we, as a board, have pretty much come to a consensus of combining Lawsonville and Sandy Ridge,” Robertson said.

Beyond enrollment figures, factors like commute times and minimizing disruption to students’ educational experiences play a role in these decisions.

As the process unfolds, community members are voicing their concerns.

“Completely closing down one school or the other and merging it’s not going to enable us to thrive as a community and be able to foster the type of education and experience that we want for kids,” said Summer Todd, a parent with children attending Lawsonville Elementary.

Todd also raises concerns about the potential impact on students, arguing that transitioning from smaller to larger classroom settings could present significant challenges and cultural adjustments.

“It’s going to be a big adjustment for kids to be from smaller classroom sizes to larger classroom sizes more kids being included in the classrooms and higher numbers of kids,” Todd said.

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While decisions are pending, it’s important to note that any changes would not disrupt the upcoming school year.

Students can expect business as usual on the first day of school just weeks away. However, if consolidation takes place, it would only commence at the earliest in the 2024-25 school year.

As the community awaits further developments on the decisions made that will inevitably shape the trajectory of education in the county, we will keep you updated here.