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School Board submits plan

WINDSOR – The plan has been submitted, much to the dismay of one elected board in Bertie County.

On Dec. 22, the legal counsel representing the Bertie County Board of Education submitted the Board’s desegregation plan to the U.S. Department of Justice.

That plan, the second of two proposals, was developed following a Dec. 15 meeting of the School Board. There, the five-member board agreed to a plan containing two options. Both options were met with stiff opposition during a public comment session built into a Dec. 19 joint meeting between the Bertie Commissioners and the School Board.

The public voiced their opposition based on the School Board’s proposal to close two elementary schools n Askewville and J.P. Law n by the end of the 2006-07 academic year and redraw the attendance lines for the four remaining K-5 schools (Aulander, Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor).

Another elementary school, Aulander, is added to the closure list in option two. There, the option calls for closing all three by the end of the 2008-09 academic year; redraw the attendance lines for the remaining three K-5 schools (Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor) and build a new elementary school for 450 students. The proposed new elementary school would be constructed and opened by 2009 if there are sufficient funds identified and specifically earmarked for the project by no later than the end of the 2006-07 academic year.

It was the funding of a new elementary school that was a cause for concern among members of the Board of Commissioners at the Dec. 19 joint meeting. They questioned that proposal, especially in lieu of the board recently borrowing $6 million for the construction of a new central middle school.

The Commissioners made it clear at the Dec. 19 meeting that the county was in dire need of a new high school if and when the next round of state school bond money became available.

Last week’s submittal of the plan to the U.S. Department of Justice caught Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell by complete surprise.

“All I can say to you at this point is that it was our wish that they (School Board) would have allowed us to be more involved in this,” Harrell said Tuesday afternoon.

It was Harrell, at a Board of Commissioners meeting held later on Dec. 19, that led a discussion aimed at making a formal request to the School Board to jointly meet again on Jan. 5. Harrell said the timing was critical since the School Board had until Jan. 15 to submit its proposed desegregation plan to the Department of Justice.

“We need another meeting with the Board of Education to discuss an option that will keep our community schools open and what type of funding options that proposed measure would require,” Harrell said during the Dec. 19 meeting.

One day later, Harrell put his request in writing in a letter to Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, Superintendent of Bertie County Public Schools.

In the letter, Harrell expressed a desire to discuss alternative measures to satisfy the Department of Justice’s desegregation lawsuit against the county.

“The Board of Commissioners has listened to the outcry from the public and believes it would be in the best interest of all the citizens and children of the county to jointly discuss an approach to this lawsuit before a final desegregation proposal is sent to the Department of Justice from the Board of Education,” Harrell said in his letter. “We recognize that this is a time-sensitive matter and eagerly await your quick response to this invitation.

If the Board of Education will not be able to meet with the Board of Commissioners within this timeframe, we ask that you please meet as a board and reconsider the School System’s current proposal to the Department of Justice.”

With the School Board submittal of their proposed plan, it appears there will be no second meeting.

However, the wording on page two of that plan sent to the Department of Justice does appear to answer the financial concerns of the Commissioners.

“It is neither the Board of Education’s intent nor desire to seek an order that would in any way compel the Bertie County Commissioners to finance the construction of a new elementary school or that would require the Board of Education and County Commissioners to place the construction of a new elementary school at a higher priority than any other project that the Board of Education and County Commissioners may consider,” said the letter submitted Dec. 22 by the School Board’s legal counsel, Tharrington & Smith of Raleigh.

That letter further stated that the Bertie Board of Education retains sole discretion to determine which of the two options is selected.