Southampton County School Board selection transition underway

Published 7:58 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors was slated Tuesday evening, Feb. 28, to begin the process of transitioning the county from an appointed school board to an elected school board.

The county had been one of the few localities in Virginia to still use a School Board Selection Commission.

The selection method for the Southampton County School Board had involved a circuit court judge appointing three people who comprise the School Board Selection Commission, and that commission selected the school board members.

Mandy Hall and other parents with children in Southampton County Public Schools helped lead a successful campaign in 2022 to have the following referendum added to the ballot for the Nov. 8, 2022, election: “Shall the method of selecting the school board be changed from appointment by the school board selection commission to direct election by the voters?”

A total of 5,891 county voters answered “Yes,” representing 80.2% of those who voted.

A staff report in the Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 28 meeting packet noted that County Attorney Richard Railey has drafted an ordinance for the board’s consideration that provides for the direct election of school board members by county voters in future elections. 

The board was being requested Tuesday to authorize a public hearing on the draft ordinance at its March 28 meeting.

The draft ordinance is available to read in its entirety at via a link on the Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 28 meeting agenda — item No. 13.

Southampton County School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, who represents the Boykins District, said, “I am excited that Southampton County is going to join the majority of school districts in Virginia to have school board members directly elected by the voters.”

During a Tuesday morning, Feb. 28, interview, she shared details on how the transition will take place and also concerns about the draft ordinance.

“The Board of Supervisors will be the body that will decide how that election will take place,” she said. “The Code of Virginia specifies that when changing from an appointed school board to an elected school board, the number of members must remain the same during that first election, so we have to still have nine members.”

The school board is presently composed of two at-large seats and seats corresponding to each of the county’s formerly seven districts. 

The draft ordinance abolishes the selection commission, and it also abolishes the school districts.

“What I am concerned about is that the Board of Supervisors is proposing that all nine members of the school board would be elected at large,” Goodwyn said.

Section 3 of the draft states, “The school board shall consist of nine members all to be elected at large.”

After recent redistricting, the county has moved from seven districts to five.

“If all the members of the school board are elected at large, it will not ensure that every district has representation,” Goodywn said, noting that a couple districts could easily be left without a representative. “I just think that the education of our children is too important to not have every district included on the school board.”

She noted how the Board of Supervisors is also being affected by the redistricting and alluded to the importance of complete representation on both boards.

“If having all positions at large would not be good for the Board of Supervisors, it wouldn’t be good for the school board either,” she said.

She stated that the Board of Supervisors does have alternatives when it comes to the make-up of the elected school board.

“They could have five members, one from each district, and then four at large,” she said. “So they do have options.”

The draft ordinance states that the appointed members of the school board that were on the board at the time of the referendum will continue on the board for the balance of each of their terms except that each term will expire on Dec. 31 immediately subsequent to the June 30 expiration date of the appointed term.

Three members will be elected at large this coming November, according to the draft, followed by two members in November 2024, two in November 2025 and two in November 2026.

Current school board members whose terms expire June 30 of this year include Franklin District Board Member Lynn Bradley and Berlin-Ivor District Board Member Florence W. Reynolds. 

The Capron District seat is currently vacant due to a resignation.

Drewryville District Board Member Donna B. Rountree’s term expires in 2024. Members with terms expiring in 2025 include Newsoms District Board Member Denise Bunn and At-Large Board Member Gregory Scott. Members with terms expiring in 2026 include At-Large Board Member Orris Lane, Jerusalem District Board Member Christopher A. Smith Sr. and Goodwyn. 

Section 6 of the draft ordinance states, “Each of the nine members of the Southampton County School Board will be elected for a four-year term with the elections to be staggered as set out herein.”