Hurricanes, population loss contribute to closing of five Robeson schools

Posted October 20, 2019 8:55 a.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2019 6:43 p.m. EDT

— Faced with a budget deficit of more than $2 million and declining enrollment, the Robeson County Board of Education has closed five schools:

  • Janie C. Hargrave Elementary School in Lumberton
  • Rowland Middle School in Rowland
  • Green Grove Elementary School in Fairmont
  • R.B. Dean Elementary School in Maxton

South Robeson High School has been eliminated, but the building will become a new middle school, according to The Fayetteville Observer.

The school district has lost close to 1,700 students over the last four years, district spokesman Gordon Burnette told WRAL News.

"There's different things that have impacted this, but mainly the two hurricanes," Burnette said.

In its heyday, hundreds of students walked the halls of Hargrave Elementary in east Lumberton. But during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence last year, the Lumber River flooded nearby communities, forcing many families to leave the area.

The departures meant less state funding for students, leaving the school district with a budget shortfall. District leaders figured they could save money by consolidating the remaining students into fewer schools.

Shannon Shay said the closings affect both of her children.

"My oldest that's in, he's in ninth grade this year. He would have been going to South Robeson High School, but he's going to Fairmont [High School] now," Shay said. "My youngest, he was going, he would have been at Green Grove [Elementary], but now he goes to South Robeson [Intermediate School]."

In addition to South Robeson High being converted to a middle school, Rowland Middle will be used as an alternative school for troubled students and the school board voted Tuesday to turn Hargrave Elementary into the district's new headquarters – the old offices were flooded during Matthew.

"The Public School System of Robeson County has had to shift things around, make different decisions that were difficult. but we're proud to say no one has lost a job. no one was fired," Burnette said.

School leaders say they were able to consolidate staff positions without firing anyone through natural attrition and retirements.

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