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Goodwyn offers summary of meeting with school, county leaders

Southampton County School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn recently offered a summary to the school board of a July 14 relationship-building meeting that took place between county and school leaders. She highlighted the school system’s preferred approach to communication and collaboration between it and county leadership.

Deborah Goodwyn

As she began her summary at the Aug. 9 school board meeting, she mentioned that the July 14 meeting included herself, school board Vice Chair James Pope III, Southampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon, Southampton County Board of Supervisors Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards, Vice Chair William Hart Gillette and County Administrator Michael Johnson.

Goodwyn said the meeting was built as a relationship-building meeting and was structured in three different parts based on input from the school board.

“In the first segment, we did a get-acquainted activity because our board has expressed the idea that when people get to know each other better, they work better together,” she said.

“The second thing we did, again based on input from the board, was to get Mr. Johnson and Dr. Shannon to give us a summary and a review of the roles and responsibilities of the respective boards, because, again, our board has indicated that we want to clearly delineate the responsibilities of the Board of Supervisors and the rules and responsibilities of the school board.”

She said Johnson and Shannon then provided those summaries.

“Our purpose there was to make sure that everybody in attendance remembered that the school board and the Board of Supervisors are two co-equal boards, that the school board does not report to the Board of Supervisors and that the Board of Supervisors appropriates the funding as required by the Code of Virginia and as expected by the citizens of Virginia,” Goodwyn said. “They’re appropriating funds because they’re the body that sets tax rates, they’re the body that would be the ones to appropriate funds for county agencies, and education’s a big part of it.”

She said school system leaders wanted to emphasize those points and to remind people that the school board does not answer to the Board of Supervisors.

The focus of conversation at the meeting eventually turned to the subject of communication between the boards.

“Now, when we talked about requesting information, they can request information of us, but when they request information, we were thinking that it’s information that would be helpful to the Board of Supervisors in making informed decisions,” Goodwyn said. “And when we were on that topic, for example, we talked about if the Board of Supervisors had potential businesses coming into the area, then Dr. Shannon would be happy to meet with potential businesses to talk about the school system, to talk about how we could make sure we have a workforce that’s qualified for the businesses coming in.”

Goodwyn said she wanted to assure the school board that when she, Pope and Shannon talked about exchanging information, they talked about how to request information and were thinking that if the Board of Supervisors needed or wanted information that would help it make better, informed decisions related to their area of responsibility, school leaders would be happy to comply. 

“We did not mean that they could ask us any question and we would feel compelled to answer,” she said. “FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, refers to documents. So, of course, there’s a document that is available to the public — if they want it, they can certainly get it.”

Goodwyn then highlighted how she, Pope and Shannon wanted to distinguish between whether a request was coming at the direction of the Board of Supervisors or if it was coming from an individual member of the Board of Supervisors because there would be different methods of providing response to those requests.

“If the board has decided that it wants information, then that request should go through Mr. Johnson to Dr. Shannon,” she said. “If an individual person on that board — like any other citizen — wants information, then, of course, they can talk to any one of us.”

Goodwyn emphasized that school leaders were not trying to limit what individual citizens can do but rather are trying to come up with a mechanism where they can delineate between what was a board request and what a person was requesting as an individual citizen of Southampton County.

“The other thing we talked about was that when asked about matters concerning the school district, we suggested that members of the Board of Supervisors should direct those questions to the school board or to Dr. Shannon, that the Board of Supervisors should not try to answer questions about operational measures pertaining to Southampton County Public Schools,” she said. “If they were asked questions, then our suggestion was that they should refer those questions to the central office.

“And of course, we need to agree that all of us, each member of this board, is willing to talk with individual members whenever they choose to call us,” she continued. “If an individual wants to contact us, we welcome those calls, those visits, those questions, and we’re willing to do that.”

On July 27, county leaders gave their report of the July 14 meeting. 

Included among the comments, Edwards said, “What I think I took away from the meeting was that we told them that we were very interested in how taxpayers’ money was used and that we would continue to be interested and follow that. (The school budget is) almost 60% of our local budget, so it’s taxpayers’ monies, and I think the board — if anybody disagrees, let me know — we’re stewards of that, and it’s our obligation to oversee that somewhat also.”

He said the Board of Supervisors is going to stand on transparency.

“And I told them at the meeting if they have any questions about the board, the county, whatever, all they had to do was pick up the phone — they don’t have to go through anybody — and call us, and we would be glad to give them the answers, all the information they wanted,” he said.

Then he read out the five things he and Gillette wanted to ask the school board. More questions were added to the list. 

Questions pertained to students with perfect attendance during the 2020-21 school year; faculty or staff receiving coaching or organized sponsor stipends; the current employment contract for the division superintendent; a maintenance plan in connection with the school roofs; meeting minutes from recent Southampton County School Board Selection Committee meetings; the handling of Critical Race Theory curriculum; if there are any transgender high school students; where out-of-district tuition goes; the number of out-of-district students; how much the tuition is per student; and where money cut from coaching stipends is going.