- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CLYDE, N.C. (AP) - Haywood County’s school board has voted to close an elementary school, weeks after officials said dwindling enrollment and funding cuts might lead to the move.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports (http://avlne.ws/1U8mrzz) the board voted 6-2 Tuesday night to close Central Elementary School in Waynesville.

“I believe our board has done a tremendous job looking at all solutions other than closing Central Elementary School, and they simply do not exist,” board chair Chuck Francis said.

System officials say the N.C. Department of Public Instruction must now sign off on the decision

The school district is trying to make up an expected $2.4 million budget deficit. Officials already announced a number of cuts including eliminating 22 teaching positions. During an emotional hearing last month, parents urged school officials not to close the school. Those emotions resurfaced at the most recent meeting as parents and staff filled the meeting room and spilled out into a hallway.

“I can’t say enough how much I’m begging you guys to give us more time before you make this decision,” parent Chris Williamson said. “Nobody is forcing your hand.

“We know our children best, and we want to keep our students at our school,” Williamson said.

School board members responded by saying the school district has already used a large chunk of its fund balance.

Board member Jim Harley Francis said school budgets have been cut since 2008. He called the decision to close Central “the toughest decision I’ve had to make.”

Parent and local attorney Mark Melrose called the decision “disappointing and devastating.”

Melrose was escorted out of the meeting after he refused to stop speaking when his three minutes were up during the public comment period. He said some parents are considering legal action to challenge the board’s decision.

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, http://www.citizen-times.com

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