Fiscal crisis raises urgency of city-county cooperation

Published 8:20 am Friday, April 27, 2012

by Lynne H. Rabil

To the citizens of Southampton County and the City of Franklin: Why aren’t we working together?

Long before the closure of International Paper’s Franklin mill, an alliance of government and business leaders was formed that created Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., an organization developed for the mutual benefit of Franklin and Southampton County. It was the intent of these leaders to continue on the path of cooperation, not only for the purpose of creating new jobs through FSEDI but to improve social services, safety and recreation. The biggest part of that mission was to enhance the quality of Southampton County and Franklin schools by working collaboratively. Unfortunately, without the support of government and school leaders on both sides, this effort floundered.

Following the shocking closure of the paper mill, elected officials and administrators in Southampton, Isle of Wight and Franklin promised they would find ways to share services and eliminate wasteful spending. They promised us to meet regularly and seek compromise on issues that were of common interest. Has this promise been kept? Along the way there have been numerous missed opportunities on both sides to come to the table on serious issues.

“Big cuts in S’hampton?” was the headline in Sunday’s Tidewater News. “Now’s the time for leadership,” read another. Cuts in Franklin are also imminent. Before the headline reads “More jobs lost!”, it is time for our elected officials and administrators to sit down together and take a serious look at the budgets for every department and service provided. Before schools are funded, our elected officials should request that the two school boards and superintendents do the same. This is a measure of accountability that we as citizens should expect.

Because education is inarguably the single most important economic driver in a community, a feasibility study was funded by the Camp Foundations and commissioned by Franklin Southampton Futures in May 2006. The “Review of Operations, Shared Services, and Efficiencies in Franklin City Public Schools and Southampton County Public Schools” was prepared by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. That institute was led by Dr. William Bosher Jr., past superintendent of schools in both Henrico and Chesterfield counties and a former superintendent of public instruction for the commonwealth of Virginia. As the leader of two of the most progressive school divisions within Virginia, and as someone who had a tenure leading all divisions, he was the most well qualified individual at that time to undertake such a study.

Dr. Bosher and his team of educators and lawyers identified numerous opportunities for effective savings that would allow the children of both Franklin and Southampton County to be better educationally served. Unfortunately and frustratingly for those who commissioned the study, it was completely ignored. Why? Was it because of past hurt feelings? Was it concern over job security? Was it because there was no real benefit in saving money when times were flush? We can only speculate.

Why aren’t we working together? As William Bosher said to the leadership of both Southampton County and the City of Franklin when reviewing the study six years ago, the only thing that divides us is a sign in the road. We can no longer afford to let the hurt feelings from years ago drive the decisions that impact our lives.