County sticks to appointed board

Published 10:40 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

COURTLAND—Southampton County Public Schools is among 24 of Virginia’s 134 school districts where voters do not choose school board members.

In Southampton’s case, a committee of three residents appointed by a judge decides who will serve on the board, as will be done this spring for two four-year seats.

“I’m not real sure (why it’s still done that way),” said Russell Schools, chairman of the Southampton County School Board. “There was talk about different counties going that way (to elections). It didn’t happen here.”

In 1991, Virginia was the only state with school boards composed only of appointed members, said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the state Department of Education. The General Assembly a year later gave localities the option to elect school board members.

Schools said he assumes changing the process in Southampton County would require petitioning the General Assembly.

The Virginia School Boards Association has no preference on how it’s done, said Gina Patterson, the group’s assistant executive director in Charlottesville.

“It varies from division to division,” said Patterson, noting of the 24 holdouts, three school districts use committees to make appointments, while city councils or supervisors make appointments in the remaining 21.

In Franklin, school board members are appointed by the City Council, while in Isle of Wight County, voters elect them.

Southampton County residents Robert Cumbey, Emerson B. Kitchen Sr. and Mark Hodges were chosen to decide who fills the two seats on their school board. The $5,000-a-year jobs are for the Franklin/Hunterdale and Berlin/Ivor districts.

Anyone interested in being appointed must attend an 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 31, public hearing at the school board office.

Incumbent David Watkins from the Franklin/Hunterdale District, who has served on the board for 27 years, said Tuesday he will not seek a reappointment, while Berlin/Ivor representative Florence Reynolds is asking for an eighth four-year term.

“I’m getting ready to retire and we’re relocating to North Carolina,” said Watkins, a scheduler and planner for International Paper. “We found a house on a river that was in foreclosure.”

Superintendent Charles Turner praised Watkins for his years on the board.

“He has served this board in a very outstanding manner,” Turner said.

Serving for 28 years, Reynolds said she would like to be reappointed for “the same reasons I got on the board in 1983.”

“The love of children,” she said. “Being a member of the school board gives you a chance to work for the most precious asset that you have in the county.”

A teacher for 36 years, including 23 with Suffolk schools, the 70-year-old finds funding programs as the district’s greatest challenge.

“But we have been able to have a good relationship with our Board of Supervisors,” she said. “Right now our budget is looking good.”

The selection committee will meet 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 7, to appoint school board members. Candidates should attend.

The appointees will begin serving on July 1.