Bertie lends support to Washington County school

Published 8:36 am Tuesday, November 9, 2010

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Education will support a regional Agri-Science school in Washington County.

During last week’s meeting of the school board, a resolution was adopted to support the location of the school at the Vernon James Center, but the board made it clear they will continue to operate an Agri-Science School in Bertie County.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Crawford said he and Board of Education Vice Chairman Alton Parker met with Tony Habit of the North Carolina New Schools Project and other leaders on the agri-science school.

He said they were told the school would not be put in Bertie County because of the lack of resources and facilities.

“What they’re saying to us is the hub will be at the Vernon James Center or in western North Carolina,” Parker interjected. “We have made it clear that if that happened, we want to be a main spoke in that hub.”

Parker said he, Dr. Crawford and Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb had met with Habit and asked about the funding for the Bertie Early College High School (which is the Agri-Science School) that comes from the New Schools Project.

“He said all they could tell us is that two have come up for refunding and both were funded at the same level or above,” Parker said.

The Vice Chair said he and Dr. Crawford had told Habit that Bertie County would continue to operate its own school and not send students to Washington County. He said the students at the Bertie Early College could, however, use the Vernon James Center for one-day trips for research.

“We want it in eastern North Carolina and not in the western part of the state because the resources would be more readily available to us here,” Parker said.

“Where would it leave our agri-science school,” board member Rickey Freeman asked. “Where would our students go?”

Parker said they would go to the school in Bertie County.

“We don’t want to lose our identity,” he said. “Our students would continue to go to our school and it’s possible we could pick up some students from Northampton, Hertford and maybe even Martin County.”

Freeman said he wasn’t opposed to supporting Washington County’s bid as long as it had no negative effects on Bertie’s Early College High School.

“Our situation is that it would benefit us for it to be in Washington County,” Parker said. “If they take it to Buncombe County, it won’t benefit our students at all.”

Board member Pamela Chamblee asked if having the school “at our back door” would be a hindrance rather than a help. Parker said that question had been asked and the county had been assured that was not the case.

Turning to the resolution in front of them, board member Emma Johnson said she was concerned about some of the wording. She said she did not like the word school being used and Bertie County supporting a school at the Vernon James Center.

Dr. Crawford said the wording of the resolution was not as important as its intent – to support the Washington County bid rather than one from western North Carolina.

Board Attorney Rod Malone said he wasn’t sure the resolution read as the board seemed to indicate it should.

“This basically says there will not be a school in Bertie County,” Malone said.

“Where does it say that,” Dr. Crawford asked.

Malone said the resolution didn’t say there wouldn’t be a school in Bertie County, but that he thought that was the “logical conclusion” upon reading it.

Board members said they had an issue with calling the hub at the Vernon James Center a school.

“It’s got to be called a school,” Freeman said. “What else are you going to call it?”

Dr. Crawford said the resolution could be changed as the board saw fit, but that Washington County needed the endorsement of all the surrounding counties to be able to compete for the school.

“There’s a better chance of our school surviving and benefitting if the hub is in Washington County,” Freeman said. “If it is in Statesville, we could lose our school.”

Board Chair Gloria Lee asked what happened if the board didn’t approve the resolution.

“I think you are over-thinking this,” Dr. Crawford said. “We are simply offering our support for Washington County as opposed to the western North Carolina site. Change the resolution to read however you want. They want the support, not the exact wording.”

The board agreed to change the wording in one area to add their intention to keep the school in Bertie County.

“Whereas Bertie County Schools has a sustainable ag science high school that is recognized as a model within the region,” the resolution read.

The board agreed to add that the school would remain in existence. It also added that the ag science school in Washington County would “provide support” to the one in Bertie County.

After the changes, Freeman offered a motion to approve the resolution and it passed without objection.