April 1, 2011
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
After some school board members expressed concerns Monday about a proposal to develop a detailed plan for the merger of the Henry County and Martinsville school systems, the county and city school boards decided to seek the costs of consultants’ services before going forward with a merger plan.
In unanimous votes, each board adopted a motion to prepare a request for proposals from consultants to guide their superintendents in preparing a detailed implementation plan. Based on proposals received and cost factors, the boards then will determine whether to proceed in developing a plan and how to fund the consultants’ work and other costs — if consultants are used.
No date was given for the boards’ next step.
Bill Manning, vice chairman of the Martinsville School Board, made the substitute motion during a joint meeting at the National Guard Armory.
The meeting, which drew about 55 observers, began with Superintendents Anthony Jackson of the county schools and Pam Heath of the city schools summarizing the activities that have taken place since February 2010, when recent merger consideration began.
Then three managing partners of Richmond consulting firm DecideSmart presented a report summarizing public comments about possible merger gathered through Community Conversations meetings at the three high schools, a survey of employees of both school divisions, and online/electronic comments. (See related story.)
DecideSmart’s Bill Bosher, a former state superintendent of public instruction, next presented a proposed joint resolution of the school boards. It states that the two superintendents “are directed to prepare and submit a detailed, joint implementation plan for the consolidation of the school divisions.”
That plan would be reviewed, and public input would be gathered, before a “definitive agreement” would be reached on merging the systems, the resolution states.
“If at any point there are issues that cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of both Henry and Martinsville School Boards, then either party has the option to terminate the negotiations,” the resolution states.
Joe DeVault, vice chairman of the county school board and at-large member, said he felt the school systems should not approve of developing a merger plan without knowing the cost, who would pay for it and that it would not negatively impact the county school system’s budget.
“I’m reluctant to obligate our board” to spending a great deal of money until the cost and sources of funding are known, he said.
Manning said that he too had concerns, and he made his substitute motion, which passed.
After the vote, several school board members made comments. Curtis Millner Sr., Iriswood District member on the county school board, said the city and county have cooperated on social services and economic development, and he hopes they can cooperate on education.
“I, too, am concerned about funding. We are cash-strapped. ... I think the communities should come together with funds to fund this,” Millner said.
Kathy Rogers, Collinsville District representative on the county school board and its chairman, said developing a merger implementation plan is “critical,” and she hopes funding can be found.
Rogers said in an interview that she would have voted for the original proposal, but the boards do need to know the costs of developing a merger implementation plan and how that would be funded.
“I hope this will not be a hindrance ... (in) developing an implementation plan,” she said.
Rogers said the two boards had input in the development of the original proposal, which was prepared by a lawyer and presented at the meeting by Bosher.
According to Manning, an implementation plan would be a plan to implement a merger, not a study of whether merger should happen.
Rogers said an implementation plan would show what a merged system would look like.
Bosher said it would take about a year to develop a detailed merger implementation plan. The two school boards, the Henry County Board of Supervisors and Martinsville City Council would have to approve the plan, and public hearings would be held in the process. The Virginia Board of Education also would have to approve the plan, he said.
"There is no way this could be done before 2013, maybe 2014,” Bosher said.
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