Board balks at city plan

Published 11:20 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

Members of the Suffolk School Board want some face time with City Council, following the release earlier this week of an early draft of a city capital improvements plan that recommends consolidation of Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools.

The plan goes against the school board’s stated desire to build a replacement for Southwestern and to renovate Robertson.

“I think we’re putting dollars in front of what is more important for the students,” said School Board member Enoch Copeland.

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The proposed combined school would cost about $23 million to build, which would represent a savings of approximately $11 million over the cost of the School Board’s separate-schools plan.

School Board members expressed disappointment at the city’s proposal.

Copeland said Thursday that allowing another body to step in and make decisions for the schools would make his board look like it “does not have the knowledge of the need of education in the system.”

“I feel like the School Board proposal was the most effective one in dealing with the students,” he said.

Copeland compared the proposal to the 1980s idea of creating a single high school for the city. He said neither idea “address(ed) the future of the city of Suffolk.”

Board member James Perkinson said the city’s growth was a prime motivation for his vote to keep both schools, which, he added, came only after City Council decided to extend sewer and water lines to the more rural parts of the city that Southwestern and Robertson serve.

Board Chairman Lorraine Skeeter said it would be up to the School Board to meet with City Council and give its reasoning for wanting to keep both schools. The board has asked council for joint meetings in the past to explain its funding priorities, but heard nothing from City Hall.

“We need to be present and speak for the proposal we put in for the Capital Improvements Plan,” she said. She added that she wants talks to take place soon to get more discussion time.

“I mean, we won’t wait until the day the vote is given.”

City staff’s draft of a proposed capital improvements plan also proposes including money for a new 600-pupil middle school serving the northern and eastern area of the city, at a cost of $27.55 million spread over the budget years 2011-2013, as well as $100,000 in 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 for hazardous material management, testing and abatement.