Goodwyn decries ‘disrespect’ from Board of Supervisors

Published 2:11 am Monday, June 27, 2022

Southampton County School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn denounced during the board’s June 13 meeting what she described as disrespectful behavior from the Southampton County Board of Supervisors toward the school board in connection to the status of the school roofs.

Deborah Goodwyn

At the Board of Supervisors’ May 24 meeting, Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards said that “a lot of us on the board are getting calls from teachers and citizens and students that the roofs in the schools are leaking.”

With the three-year warranty on workmanship for the school roofs expiring in September, the Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a resolution addressed to the school board.

As the resolution neared its conclusion, it noted that the Board of Supervisors is vested by statutory law with power over the county purse, answerable and accountable to the county taxpayers, while care and maintenance of school buildings, including their roofs, is vested exclusively in the school board.

“Whereas, the Board of Supervisors continues to receive reports of multiple leaks in various school buildings,” the resolution stated, “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Supervisors of Southampton County, Virginia, that it officially goes on record imploring the Southampton County School Board to exercise its fiduciary responsibility, acting in the best interest of its students, faculty, staff and county taxpayers by carefully surveying each school building for roof leaks and promptly filing warranty claims for any defective materials or workmanship prior to the expiration of the warranty on workmanship in September 2022; and be it further resolved that the Board of Supervisors respectfully requests to receive a copy of the results of such roof surveys and any associated warranty claims that may be filed.”

When addressing the resolution during the school board’s June 13 meeting, Goodwyn noted that each board member had a copy of it.

“I am as baffled as you are by the Board of Supervisors’ unhealthy obsession with school roofs, but we have passed the resolution on to our attorney, and we will wait to see what our attorney says we should do from here,” she said, asking for any additional comments or concerns from board members.

She was about move on to the next agenda item, but then said, “I can’t let the opportunity to pass, though, to talk about that request from the Board of Supervisors, and for our new board member and for board members who might not remember the history, let me just remind you of a couple of things.”

She noted that several years ago, due to budget cuts, a lot of school building maintenance was deferred.

“So then, around about 2015 or 2014, the school roofs were in disrepair,” she said. “So there was a discussion between Board of Supervisors members and the school board members to say, ‘How do we address this problem? We know that this is a major project, what can we do to make sure we get the roofing situation under control?’

“The solution was that we would get a loan to cover the cost of repairing the roof,” she continued. “The Board of Supervisors agreed that instead of doing it little by little or piece by piece, they could access a low-interest loan to cover the cost of replacing the roofs, and that’s what we did.

“Like any other major purchase, like building a school building, this roofing cost would be a part of our debt service, which means then that the loan payment would be a part of the school board budget until the roofing loan was repaid,” she added.

She said it is misinformation to have members of the community think “that the Board of Supervisors reached into its coffers and somehow gave the school board $5.9 million. That is not what happened; this is a loan that the school board is paying back.”

Then she elaborated on her prior use of the words “unhealthy obsession.”

“Now, probably where I call it an ‘unhealthy obsession’ is that last year, the Board of Supervisors had some information that there were problems with the roof,” she said. “So, of course, we responded saying that ‘we cannot come to your meeting, but please know that one goal of the Southampton County School Board is to provide facilities and programs that facilitate learning,’ because it’s in our best interest to provide facilities that meet the needs of our students.

“Well, the disrespect was that that board would not accept our answer,” she said. “So what they’re saying to us is, ‘Prove to me you’re telling the truth,’ and that is not the way equals talk to each other.

“So I think what happened was that when the Board of Supervisors invited us to come stand before the inquisition and answer questions and we declined, they took that as an affront,” she continued. “But what we were trying to tell them is that ‘we hear what you’re saying. We’re concerned about the roofs. We’ve hired a roofing inspector. We have monthly inspections. We have a roofing person. We’ve adhered to all the guidelines concerning roofing.’”

She indicated that nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors keeps responding by asking to enter the schools and see proof that these things are happening.

“That reminds me of maybe back in the mid-20th century in the 1960s when social workers and landlords would go to rent-subsidized houses and say, ‘Show us who lives here. Prove to us who’s living in this building,’” Goodwyn said. “Or it harkens back to tenant farming when you’d say, ‘Tell me who’s living here. Prove to me that you’re telling the truth.’ And I think that that’s disrespectful.

“I think that the Board of Supervisors should understand that we are co-equal boards, that their role is to appropriate the funding, and they have done that,” she continued. “Our role is to make sure that we spend that funding in a way that benefits our students, and we are doing that. But to keep telling us, ‘Prove to me you’re telling the truth,’ I find disrespectful.

“And I find it very upsetting to be questioned every month about a leaking roof when we have said over and over again, ‘We are addressing it. We are aware of it. We know what’s going on. If people are coming to you about a roofing issue, tell them to come to the school board meeting. Don’t come to the Board of Supervisors, because once you appropriate the money, then trust us to spend it wisely.’”

She said the inability to get past the hurdle of this issue has hurt the relationship between the boards.

She asked what it implies about the school board that supervisors insist on coming to see the roofs for themselves.

“I think it’s the height of disrespect, and you do not treat equals that way,” she said. “So, no, our board will not go stand before the Board of Supervisors and explain our actions. We will not do that. We tried to explain to them. We tried to use the money in a fashion that we know is right. 

“Now the Board of Supervisors has a recourse, because if it comes up and you need roofs 50 years from now, they can say, ‘Well, we’re not taking out another loan,’” she added. “But for this loan, at this time, the school board is repaying it, we’re making the necessary repairs, we have the people in place, we have a vested interest in having a building that’s conducive to learning, and we’re doing all that we can to make sure that students in Southampton County receive the education they deserve.”

Applause followed Goodwyn’s comments from some board members and people in attendance at the meeting.

“Like I said, we have turned that resolution over to our attorney, so we’re not going to address it, we’re not going to answer it,” Goodwyn said. “We’re going to just turn it over to the attorney, and we will see what our attorney has to say about it.”