Rural school districts face tough discussions on consolidation

Rural school districts face tough discussions on consolidation
Players from Alleghany High and Covington High face off in the annual Brackman cup game. (Source: City of Covington website via Virginia Mercury)

CLIFTON FORGE — Alleghany County Sheriff Dale Muterspaugh went on a crusade in 2004, pledging his department’s resources to find the primary victim of a massive vandalism case at the high school. In July, dive teams searching the bottom of Pike Pond found what they were looking for: the Brackman Cup, symbol of the fierce football rivalry between the county high school and the city high school in the county seat.

Fifteen years later, representatives from the city, the county and schools boards in each are sifting through a process as muddy and silty as the bottom of Pike Pond. The trophy they seek is even more elusive than the Brackman Cup: a fair and equitable way to consolidate the Alleghany and Covington school systems.

Like many other rural Virginia localities, Alleghany County and Covington struggle with long-term depopulation and an accompanying decline in school enrollment. A faction of community leaders is responding by pushing to consolidate the school systems, but face a wealth of challenges including pay disparities, questions about how to navigate funding and capital investment, how to merge school boards, and a local culture shaped in large part by rivalries between the high schools.

“Everyone has a different reason for wanting it to happen or not to happen,” said Jacob Wright, a member of the Alleghany County School Board who has largely propelled the consolidation effort. “Those of us looking at it from a sustainability aspect know it needs to happen.”

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