The board, in a workshop immediately prior to its regular first Monday meeting, heard a presentation from Jeff Psai for the Center for Research and Education, a Raleigh-based firm which collects and analyzes data for school systems to help them make planning decisions, including redrawing district lines for individual schools of the systems.
The Bladen system has committed to redrawing its school boundaries for the 2004-2005 school year. Redistricting, always a complicated and sometimes an emotional issue, has not been undertaken in the county system since the early 1990's.
Psai told the board during his presentation that his firm collects extensive population data and does interviews in residential centers in the county to develop what he called "a perception of growth" for the school system.
The county would be broken down into blocks of 50 to 100 students, transportation issues would be plugged in along with other information that is available and pertinent, and from there, assignments to schools would be made.
Once all the needed data is collected, Psai said, computers actually draw the district lines.
"Our computers do it very quickly," he said, and, he added, they remove the politics and emotion from the equation.
Psai told the board that his firm provides the best mathematical breakdown of potential district lines, but boards can alter the proposed lines if they wish.
In answer to a question from Board Chairman Bruce Dickerson, Psai said that he could not predict a dollar figure that the county might save on transportation costs by using district lines that are likely to be more transportation-efficient.
However, Richard Dunham, transportation officer for the county school system, told the board that it is likely considerable savings will occur over a four- or five-year period because new district lines should be more efficient for his department.
Psai told the board that his firm's normal fee is either $1.80 per student, or a minimum of $25,000, whichever is larger. But, he offered to do the work in Bladen for $10,000 to $15,000, depending on certain variables not yet known, because Bladen does not have high growth numbers which would take considerable time to research.
The board voted unanimously, during the regular session which followed the workshop, to retain the firm to propose its new district lines.
Psai told the board that, because of projects already committed to, his firm will not be able to begin its Bladen work until November.
"Then, it will take two to three months to complete," he said.