School board selection referendum to be on ballot
Published 6:29 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2022
When Southampton County voters cast their ballots this November, they will have the opportunity to determine how the county’s school board is selected.
The referendum on the ballot will read as follows: “Shall the method of selecting the school board be changed from appointment by the school board selection commission to direct election by the voters?”
Southampton County is one of the few localities left in Virginia that has a school board selection method involving a circuit court judge appointing three people who comprise a school board selection commission, and that commission selects the school board members.
The petition calling for the referendum began circulating in the county in February. For it to be successful, it had to feature, by late July, signatures from 10% of the county’s registered voters, which, as of Jan. 1, translated to 1,295 signatures.
Amanda Hall, who helped lead the signature-gathering campaign this year, stated that the order for referendum was submitted to Southampton Circuit Court on Thursday, July 14, with 1,342 signatures that were eligible and verified as determined by the Southampton County registrar.
“Overall, the registrar processed 1,740 signatures in order to get the 1,342 that were turned in to the court,” Hall stated. “The petition campaign overall collected more than 2,000 signatures well before the deadline of turning them in, which is July 19.”
She explained why she used the terms “eligible” and “verified” to describe the 1,342 signatures.
“The registrar examined every single signature and compared it to her list of registered voters to make sure that no duplicates were counted, that all of the signatures came from registered voters and that they listed their correct residential address,” Hall said. “The signature had to be legible, and there were a number of factors that led to some signatures not being verified as eligible.”
In the wake of the campaign’s success, Hall referenced the level of support she received from county voters as the signature-gathering was underway.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of support shown by the entire community and the dedication that we had,” she said. “It was quite a few people who circulated the petitions, and I think it really speaks to the overall feeling that this process of the school board selection should be a democratic process.”
She noted that she was not surprised the campaign garnered quite a few more signatures than needed.
“We had planned on that, and we had a specific goal in mind, and we wanted to greatly exceed that to ensure that we had enough that were eligible,” she said.
Tony Clark is a former publisher of The Tidewater News who has publicly advocated for an elected school board in Southampton County for nearly 12 years, and he was also part of the campaign this year.
“It’s always a great day when democracy wins,” he stated Friday, July 15. “The advent of appointed school boards was the direct result of segregationist policies aimed at keeping certain members of society out of the public education system, and Virginia, under then-Gov. Doug Wilder, was the last state in the union to allow elected school boards in 1992. Today, Southampton County is finally one step closer to abolishing this relic of the past, and I’m so proud of, and thankful for, the efforts of so many who made this outcome possible.”
The Southampton County School Board Selection Commission recently met to provide appointments to three seats on the Southampton County School Board, including the Boykins District seat, to which Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn was reappointed for another four-year term.
Goodwyn indicated that she had no problem with the referendum.
“I am looking forward to seeing the community response,” she said.
Lynn Bradley, who is the appointee on the school board in the Franklin District seat, also said, “I have no problem with an elected school board.”
Some members of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors had been supporters of the signature-gathering campaign, including Newsoms District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike.
“I am very pleased that enough valid signatures were secured to get the issue on the ballot so that county voters will hopefully have a say in who represents them on the school board,” Updike said. “I have had numerous complaints that members of the school board do not answer their calls and emails. That is unacceptable. Supervisors are accountable to their constituents. It should be the same with the school board.
“I was just one of the many local people out getting signatures,” she added. “There are still numerous partial petitions that we didn’t need to turn in because the magic number had already been reached.”
She mentioned that her late husband, Glenn H. Updike Sr., a former county supervisor, worked hard last year to get signatures.
“He very much wanted to get this issue on the ballot,” she said.
Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards offered comment on the campaign’s success as a parent and citizen of the county.
“I am overjoyed at the referendum making it to the ballot box,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors is accountable to our constituents. The present school board is accountable to no one. This is manifest by their absent communications with concerned parents. There is zero transparency in their dealings with our most precious resource, our children. The school system has deteriorated at an alarming rate, which is due to poor leadership at the ‘top’ and school board. We need to get responsible and responsive people on this board. What could be more democratic for the citizens of Southampton County than a vote at the ballot box! The people will finally get a voice in their child’s education.”