School Board’s actions strikes nerve

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 8, 2005

WINDSOR – Apparently, the decision reached Monday night by the Bertie County of Education to close three elementary schools and build a new, 450-student elementary facility has struck a nerve.

By mid-afternoon yesterday (Wednesday), an official with the Bertie County Board of Commissioners contacted this newspaper in regards to a response from the county’s government leaders. The press release was issued by Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell.

Below is the text of that press release:

On behalf of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, we are very troubled by the unfortunate action of a three-person majority of the Bertie County Board of Education Monday night.

It appears clear that the Board of Education ignored the wishes of the parents, teachers, and most importantly disregarded the best interests of the children of Bertie County when it voted to close the three highest performing elementary schools in Bertie County.

We are further shocked and dismayed by the way the Board of Education majority chose to ignore the wishes of the taxpayers and citizens of Bertie County by committing no less than $13 million and up to $30 million for school facility construction without negotiation or litigating the issues raised by the Department of Justice.

The lawsuit has been reopened for over four years.

The County Commissioners have never been briefed, or in any way given any information regarding this lawsuit by the Board of Education.

It is clear that the Board of Education does not understand North Carolina public school finance law, which requires participation of county commissioners in the expenditure of capital funds and school construction.

The Board of Education has no authority to obligate capital expenditures without the consent of the Board of Commissioners representing the citizens and taxpayers of Bertie County.

It is further troubling to the Board of Commissioners that I (Harrell) was assured by the Chairman of the Board of Education that no action would be taken on Monday night so that the Board of Commissioners could be briefed on the issues at a joint meeting.

Despite those assurances, and the requests by the Board of Commissioners to have a joint meeting on December 19, 2005, the majority of the Board of Education chose to disregard the opinions of the citizens, parents, teachers and the best interests of Bertie County children and voted to enter into an ill-advised consent judgment, which obligates expenditure of funds, which it does not have.

It is clear that the three-person majority on the Board of Education has chosen a fiscally irresponsible course of action, which is contrary to the wishes of the public, contrary to the county’s ability to pay and, most importantly, contrary to the well-being of the school children in Bertie County.

It is of further concern that, less than one month after the Commissioners and citizens of Bertie County agreed to finance and construct a new $18.5 million middle school, that the Board of Education would commit, by consent decree, to close the three highest performing elementary schools in Bertie County and spend another $13 to $15 million for a new elementary school.

Once again, the Board of Education has chosen a course of non-accountability in its stewardship of tax dollars.

We invite the public to contact your Board of Education members, specifically Chairman Seaton Fairless, member Gary Cordon, Sr. and member Gloria Lee, and let them know where you stand regarding their unilateral decision on Monday night.

Demand that they be accountable to the taxpaying citizens and to the children of Bertie County.

Ask that they call a special meeting to review their decision and give consideration to the opinions of the taxpaying citizens of Bertie County.

We invite you to attend a joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education scheduled for Monday, December 19, 2005 at 4 p.m. at the Bertie County Council on Aging, 103 School Street, Windsor.