Board votes one school

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, July 9, 2009

A conclusion has finally been reached.

The student bodies of Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools will be consolidated as a result of a 6-1 vote by the Suffolk School Board Thursday night. Board Member Enoch Copeland was the lone vote against the motion.

Board members said their vote was based on creating the best educational opportunities for the students in the Whaleyville and Holland villages as well as making the most cost-efficient decision possible.

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“I say this because I love my community; I love the children,” said Phyllis Byrum, board member representing the Whaleyville community. “I think it has come time we build one elementary school that will benefit all the children in the southern part of the city.”

Vice-Chairman William Whitley agreed one school will provide students a 21st century education, and he added no decision would please everyone.

“We have got to be fair to all of us being taxpayers in this city and we’ve had an indication of how much (money) is available,” Whitley said. “(City Council) has indicated they will fund one school. I don’t care where you build a school; someone is not going to be satisfied. Students are going to have to ride a bus. They ride them now. It’s not going to be anything different from the present time. It is time for us, as a school board, to make a decision.”

Board members Diane Foster and Thelma Hinton said their decision was made on one fact: the numbers. Superintendent Milton Liverman reported earlier in the evening that Robertson Elementary School has 190 students, and Southwestern Elementary School has 355 students.

“Ownership is important to both communities, but at this time, one will be efficient enough,” Hinton said.

“My decision is based on pure numbers,” Foster said. “The pure numbers are there are not enough children to justify two schools. For that reason, I’m voting one school.”

While six members seemed to be of the same mind, Copeland was the voice of discontent. Copeland was frustrated the city council seemingly forced the school board’s hand by creating specific requirements for school selection in the city’s capital improvement plan. Copeland said council’s actions negate the role of the school board.

“If the council wants to flex their muscles, then as the elected body, we need to stay firm on what we believe – if we believe it,” Copeland said. “In my opinion, letting children go 10 miles day – 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids – is not solving the problem. It’s solving their problem so they can look back and say, ‘We built a school.’”

The school board’s next step will be deciding on a site for the new school. Those discussions will continue at next month’s board meeting.