Bill killed for changing selection process for Southampton school board members

Published 4:31 pm Monday, February 11, 2013

RICHMOND—The Senate Education and Health Committee today killed a bill that would’ve allowed Southampton County supervisors to choose school board members instead of a three-person, judge-appointed committee.

The action surprised State Del. Rick Morris, who introduced the legislation, which the House approved 98-0 on Feb. 1.

Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Alvera Parrish and School Board Chairman Chris Smith lobbied against the bill before the Senate Committee took its vote in Richmond, Morris said. Neither could be reached.

“I am surprised because no one came forward against the bill when it was presented in the House,” Morris said. “The intention of the bill was to return the democratic process to the selection of the school board. The current system has no accountability.”

Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, who reportedly serves on the committee that killed the bill, could not be reached. Blevins represents Western Tidewater.

Until 1991, school boards in Virginia were appointed. A year later, the General Assembly gave localities the option of having voters elect school board members. That’s now the practice in the vast majority of the state’s 134 school districts.

Southampton County is among the 24 school districts in which school board members are still appointed. In those districts, the school boards can be appointed by the county’s governing board or by a school board selection commission. Southampton is one of three districts that has a selection commission that appoints its board members.

In Franklin, the city council chooses the school board and in Isle of Wight County, the voters.

Southampton County Ivor-Berlin District Supervisor Ronnie West didn’t exactly favor Morris’ bill. West would’ve preferred giving the duty to the voters.

“To be honest, as far as a three-person committee (or a seven-person board of supervisors), I really don’t see a lot of difference,” West said. “I really do feel the electoral voters should choose the board.”

Newsoms District Supervisor Glenn Updike sides with West.

“It (should be) up to the county citizens (to choose the school board),” Updike said.

When asked how he felt about Parrish and Smith lobbying against the bill, Updike said “everyone has their right to their own opinion.”

Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips favored the bill because he felt it would add a level of accountability.

“In the past, the school board members have been appointed to four-year terms and as a rule, reappointed.”

The most recent committee to appoint school board members included Mark Hodges, Emerson Kitchen and Wayne Cosby.