Charter aims to improve relationship between boards

Published 9:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Southampton County School Board Member Brandon Rodgers agreed Monday, July 8, to draft a charter that includes parameters for future meetings between members of the school board and the county’s Board of Supervisors. 

School board members indicated that the goal of the meetings would be to strengthen a relationship between the two boards that has been strained in recent years and to establish a shared vision of public education in Southampton County.

Rodgers added the agenda item to the school board’s July 8 meeting to revisit an idea mentioned at a previous meeting about two school board members and two Board of Supervisors members meeting quarterly.

He noted that the meetings would be held “with the expressed purpose of trying to increase communication so that they can understand our needs going throughout the year, and we can also maybe understand some of the things that are pressures on the county’s budget.”

He said, “The motion I guess I would be putting on the floor would be that we identify two representatives that would meet quarterly with two representatives from the Board of Supervisors, should they be willing to do that, to discuss budget priorities.”

School Board Member Dr. Jennifer Tindle said, “I agree and would be willing to be one of the board members that meets.”

Deborah Goodwyn

School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn asked who is going to create the agenda for these meetings.

“I think it should be a collaborative agenda,” Rodgers said. “I think it should be shared agenda items.”

School Board Member Denise Bunn, who serves on the school board’s budget committee, said that liaison meetings with the Board of Supervisors had been part of the budget process in recent years, though these meetings did not happen this year.

“I don’t know that I see the purpose of a quarterly meeting to talk about the budget,” she said. “If we were to look at implementing something that’s a liaison meeting during the budget process, I could see that, if it had a clear agenda, because there’s a time of year that we go through that process.”

Rodgers indicated that he saw the value of meeting during budget season, but he continued to advocate for quarterly meetings, noting how it would allow for discussion sooner on grants as they are awarded during the school year.

“I do think that there’s value to forming some of those relationships with some shared understanding of the two budgets and how they’re being vetted,” he said. “I think this year is a very good example of our current process is not working.”

As the Board of Supervisors looked for ways to cut the county budget in an effort to lower the county’s real estate tax rate, some supervisors noted that the school division was slated to receive increased state and federal funding compared to last fiscal year. This helped lead the board to cut the school division’s local allocation below level funding.

Rodgers was referencing the lower level of local funding when he alluded to the current process not working.

Goodwyn said that if the meetings Rodgers was proposing were held, “we need an agenda, and we need for the Board of Supervisors to understand that it’s not for them to ask us, ‘What did we do with $2.98 for a lunch?’ It’s not for them to ask, ‘How many LGBTQ students do you have?’ It’s not for them to ask, ‘Why did you spend money on A, B, C?’ because we’re not going to share that information.

“So if we want to have a conversation about the shared vision of Southampton County in terms of providing an outstanding education for students of the county, what that looks like, I could see having a meeting to talk about our shared vision and establishing the shared vision of what public education in Southampton County should look like,” she continued. “What I would not like to see happen is a question-and-answer session that we go in and they want to know, ‘Well, how many chairs do you have in the auditorium?’

Bunn said, “They’ve been told (something) by so-and-so in the community, ‘So we want to validate whether or not that’s true.’ It turns into more of an inquisition, and I’ve been in those liaison meetings, and that is unfortunately what they have turned into in the past two or three years prior to that.”

Rodgers said he typically resolves those issues by establishing a charter that makes clear what the meeting is about and what the parameters for discussion are.

“And that becomes a charter that would have to be blessed by both boards in order for it to continue to go on,” he said.

He noted that this charter would establish that the meeting is not to create a forum for an any-topic question-and-answer session.

Rodgers said he was open to other proposals, but he noted that his main concern “is that if we continue to do the same thing and expect different results, that is the definition of insanity. And I would like to make sure that we at least try to force the hand to get a different result, because I’m concerned that if we don’t do anything differently, we’ll end up in the same place next year, and I don’t want to be in a place where I’m trying to figure out how we again cut $1 million from a budget that’s already $3 million underfunded.”

Goodwyn suggested that the starting point might be Rodgers’ approach of writing a charter.

Denise Bunn

If you could draft some kind of document about the purpose of the meeting and how the meetings will go, and then we could share that with the Board of Supervisors, see if they would be willing to meet under those conditions,” she said. “These would be the parameters, these would be the guidelines, because we do need a shared vision of public education in Southampton County, and I think the Board of Supervisors needs to understand that having an outstanding educational system is something that they should aspire to because they owe it to the people of the county to fund public education and make sure we have a sound educational system.”

Rodgers said he would be happy to draft something for the school board to review.

Bunn noted that to have a good working relationship between the boards would be beneficial, and she said that the initial meetings that would take place if a charter is agreed upon would simply be about building relationships and trust.

“That’s the whole crux of where we’re at right now is we’ve got to come up with an avenue to build relationships and trust,” she said. “It’s not about control, it’s not about us having to answer questions from them, vice versa, it’s just about a relationship.”