Southampton board commended for being firm

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, February 22, 2012

by Richard R. Harris

I attended the Jan. 20 Board of Supervisors meeting and listened to Southampton County School Superintendent Charles Turner’s plea for the return of $1.6 million in unspent funds to the school system.

While state law requires school divisions to return unspent funds to the localities at the end of each year, if and when these funds are returned to school systems, localities have very little, if any say, on how the schools spend the taxpayers’ money.

What I witnessed was the best snow job since President Obama gave his State of the Union speech.

First, Mr. Turner seemed incensed that the board would not immediately honor his request and vote to appropriate all the funds right then; they had done so for the previous 16 years, apparently without a second thought.

He played his “Chicken Little” card. You know, the sky is gonna fall if we don’t get all that money tonight!

Then he tugged at the parents’ and grandparents’ hearts about the children and their education, the school system and teachers’ jobs, sports, etc.

Next he brought up the safety issue about having buses 16 to 21 years old on the road. Why wasn’t some of the $1.6 million used to replace some of those worn-out buses last year?

Mr. Turner’s pleading and cajoling went on for more than an hour.

In the end, he convinced the board to return $1.1 million with the extra $500,000 set aside for future needs provided the School Board could substantiate its need for this additional funding.

The Southampton County school system needs a capital budget similar to the county. This would allow them to set aside and appropriate funds for the replacement of some of those aging school buses each year along with the ability to meet other needs as they arise.

It is my belief that the new members of the Board of Supervisors and those that retained their seats voted correctly to not release all of the $1.6 million at this time.

If you read the Jan. 25 Hampton Roads section of The Virginian-Pilot, you’ll find that the Portsmouth School Board asked the City Council for an additional $2.5 million to offset the loss of state funding.

Mayor Kenneth Wright indicated that while it was not out of the question, the council could not agree to the district’s request until it considered all the other funding requests it will get during its budget planning.

Our board should consider doing the same in the future!

Given current economic conditions, any and all cost-saving measures should be investigated.

Are our county and school employees on the same insurance plan? If not, why not? Can there be a cost savings if they were?

Are office supplies being purchased, like equipment and support being negotiated and purchased as a packaged deal for the county and school system?

These are just some of the questions that need to be asked during the budget process.

Mr. Turner has done a commendable job as superintendent of the Southampton County Public School system during his tenure. But we can no longer afford to just give a blank check to the school system without asking the hard questions and demanding answers.

RICHARD R. HARRIS is a Courtland resident and owner of Firearms Sales Co. in Ivor. A former Suffolk city councilman, he can be reached at