Education Department Recommends Against The Closing Of Residential School For Blind Or Deaf

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction will recommend that all three residential schools for blind and deaf students stay open, despite a legislative directive to close one of them. Instead, the education department will recommend consolidation of administration and leasing of vacant buildings in order to save the state money. In a press conference on Nov. 21, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that her department would send a report to the legislature in January that has the schools for deaf students in Wilson and Morganton, and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh continue to accept students. Governor Morehead School would become a satellite of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson, with its administration consolidated there. The Raleigh school would keep its students and its name, Atkinson said.
The plan for the schools will include a recommendation to lease vacant space on the campuses to charter schools, regional schools, or school districts in order to raise money. The legislature expected the state would save $5.5 million a year by closing one of the schools, which together enroll about 200 students. The Governor Morehead School sits on about 60 acres west of downtown Raleigh, near N.C. State University. The school enrolls about 50 students, 35 of whom live on campus during the school week.
Atkinson did not have an estimate for how much the administrative changes would save, or if any jobs would be cut. A Governor Morehead School parent said she was relieved the school would not be moth-balled. “I’m glad it is staying open,” said LaMarr Scott of Fuquay-Varina, mother of an 18-year-old Morehead School student. “I think that’s good as long as they don’t lose services.”
Scott wondered, though, how much rental space could be found since some of the buildings house state offices. Legislators said the Department of Public Instruction did not do what they wanted, but that they would work with the report. “They sort of punted it back to us,” said Representative Mitch Gillespie, a House budget writer from McDowell County. It’s possible that legislators will decide in the next budget to keep the three campuses open, he said. State legislators put the education department in a difficult spot, telling the department to pick a school to close. Legislators want to close a school because of declining enrollments. “One of the reasons we were looking at consolidating was the usage levels had dropped to the point where three facilities were no longer justified,” said Senator Pete Burnstetter, a chief budget writer. The North Carolina Lions have championed keeping the Governor Morehead School open. The Lions serve as boosters for the school’s athletic program.

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