It’s a very rare day when Guilford County commissioners call out Guilford County school system officials in public, but that’s exactly what commissioners did last week – and many commissioners were still scratching their heads this week over what they say was a surprisingly bad move: the mysterious and apparently short-lived decision to close Gateway Education Center in Greensboro.
The commissioners first publicly expressed their bafflement and dissatisfaction on Thursday, April 18, in the wake of an on again off again move by the schools to close Gateway, which serves special needs students. At the Board of Commissioners meeting that evening, the county commissioners let the school officials know in no uncertain terms about their dissatisfaction.
Commissioner Alan Perdue, like many other commissioners, had some tough words for the school officials who stood at the podium to speak on another matter – but who never got in so much as one word. They just stood there silently like school children who were being scolded.
“We continue to start new [school] programs and start new programs,“ Perdue said, adding that he wasn’t confident the school system really ever properly evaluates which programs need to be eliminated.
“But, then, we come up and take the most medically fragile children in our society and upset their world with a phone call – and, then, upset their world with a letter that’s open-ended and they’re not sure what’s going to happen.”
Perdue said the out of the blue move was hard to fathom.
“I’m just appalled that an organization that has communications staff lacks communications,” he told the school officials.
Perdue also said that the letter that went out to parents said the plan to close the school was based on the recent school facilities study, but Perdue said he couldn’t find that recommendation in the study.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips said he had “many, many thoughts” running through his mind,
“I will try to keep it brief, but I will say this: It is heartbreaking, frankly, to sit here and listen to some of the parents of the children who have been served at Gateway Education Academy.
Phillips added, “I’m disappointed in how this decision was made and how it was communicated.”
He also said he had a lot of respect for the school officials and didn’t want to point fingers, but on this item, he said, he was disturbed that commissioners were never informed.
“I heard this news when the citizens heard the news,” Phillips said.
He pointed out that he sits on the schools facilities committee – a joint committee of the two bodies – but he’d heard nothing about Gateway prior to the closure announcement.
He added he was going to do everything in his power to see that the school remained open.
Commissioner Kay Cashion said her phone hadn’t stopped ringing since the news hit and she said people were even coming by her house to complain.
And a very gruff Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson also had quite a bit to say to the school officials.
“I was very upset with how this rolled out,” Branson said before going on to explain in detail.
At the April 18 meeting, the commissioners voted to delay funding for a career and technical education (CTE) program that the schools’ proposed. Several said this week that they did so in order to get a more thorough understanding of how school officials planned to distribute county-provided money.
Commissioner Hank Henning, who made the motion last week to delay CTE funding, said that he certainly doesn’t want to stop the CTE program, but he added that he also didn’t want the board to allocate these capital dollars and then find out in the near future that the money was needed to fix up Gateway – since the school is apparently remaining open.
At the April 18 meeting, Henning said to the school officials, “We’ve got to leave here all singing from the same sheet of music.”