Wake schools’ lease plan would keep Morehead School open

The Wake County Public School System has agreed to lease space at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in a deal that will allow the school to remain open, officials said Tuesday.

Three residential schools serve about 220 visually and hearing disabled students in North Carolina, and state budget cuts mandated that one of the three schools close by July.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in November announced plans to turn the Governor Morehead School into a satellite operation of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and consolidate the administration of the two schools in Wilson.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said the Raleigh campus, which dates to 1845, is underutilized, and leasing space would bring in a “substantial” amount for the state and achieve the cost structure lawmakers sought when they proposed closing one of the three schools.

Wake County schools is prepared to lease two of the seven buildings on the Governor Morehead School campus, Superintendent Tony Tata told members of a legislative oversight committee on Tuesday.

“For this coming year, I would like to put 300 students in the Governor Morehead School,” Tata said, adding that he would ensure that the district’s operations don’t adversely affect the education of the blind students on campus.

The district and the state still need to hammer out a formal agreement, and the Wake County Board of Education and the legislative oversight committee would have to sign off on it.

“We believe that it’s a win-win situation for our students who are served by the Governor Morehead School,” Atkinson said. “It’s a win-win situation for Wake County. They need space; we have space.”

James Benton Sr., who graduated from the Governor Morehead School, said he worries that the school will lose its identity. But what’s important is that it remains open, he said.

“We think that is an excellent, excellent proposal, and it should be adopted … for all three campuses,” Benton said. “There’s a lot of space there that’s public space – state-owned property – that needs to be utilized.”

Talk of closing or merging the schools to save money has arisen during budget shortfalls as far back as 2001, but spirited support from students and families helped keep them open. In 2010, the schools cut costs by $1 million, including cutting pay, having students return later from weekends at home and dropping charter bus services.

Supporters for the Governor Morehead School and the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, as well as the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, have argued that students should be able to stay where they are most comfortable and that many of them have other special needs and disabilities that made it difficult to have success in their local school districts.

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