Senate committee to rehear Southampton school board bill

Published 5:49 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2013

RICHMOND—The Senate committee that killed a bill on Monday to allow Southampton County supervisors to choose school board members will reconsider the legislation at 8 a.m. Thursday in Richmond.

It was determined the two senators who voted to kill the bill did not constitute a quorum, said Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, who introduced the bill approved 98-0 by the House on Feb. 1.

For more than 20 years, a judge-appointed committee of three county resident has appointed school board members.

Morris would like to change that, however, Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Alvera Parrish and School Board Chairman Chris Smith on Monday lobbied against it before the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Parrish and Smith did so because they didn’t hear about the legislation until last Thursday.

“One thing that was puzzling is Del. Morris never spoke to us about the bill,” said Parrish, noting they met with him in December, but not a word was mentioned. “The selection process does work and it gives the citizens the option to change.”

Parrish was referring to the current law, which allows voters to change by placing a referendum on the ballot. Signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in Southampton County would be required.

Morris was surprised at the Senate committee’s Monday decision.

“No one came forward against the bill when it was presented in the House,” he 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, one of two committee members who 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 all but 24 of the state’s 134 school districts.

Southampton County is one of three districts that has a selection commission appoint 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 said he would like voters to choose school board members.

“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.

Morris believes the board of supervisors can make that happen.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but they can just go ahead and have direct elections,” he said.

Mark Hodges, one of the members of the selection committee, said even if voters would choose school board members, that doesn’t mean there would be anyone on the ballot.

“I’m not opposed to change,” said the 56-year-old from Courtland. “Many times we had to drum up candidates. We had to search and see who wanted it.”

Hodge doesn’t oppose Morris’ bill.

“There’s no reason why they could not be picked by the board of supervisors,” he said.

Emerson Kitchen, 81, of Sebrell has served on the committee for more than 20 years and has no problem with voters choosing the school board.

“They should express what they think,” Kitchen said.

Wayne Cosby, the third committee member, also has no problem with the job going to supervisors.

“It would give it some accountability with the elected officials making the appointments. I serve (on the committee) because I was asked to serve. I feel like I had enough experience and involvement to make a good decision.”

Cosby, 72, is a former Southampton County teacher and the retired clerk of courts.

Morris will give it his best shot before the Senate committee on Thursday.

“I still believe the democratic process works,” he said. “How this system ever got started in the land of Jefferson, I don’t know.”