School site selection process a mess

Published 8:34 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

When it comes to the education of Suffolk’s children, you would hope a political turf war never came into the equation. But it appears that is exactly what we have, now that the Suffolk City Council has assumed control of selecting the site of a new school to be built in the southern end of the city.

For more than two years, the City Council and the School Board held meetings on what to do with the elementary schools in the Whaleyville and Holland villages. And it appeared last year that a decision had been reached to combine the two schools into one new school built in a central location.

The decision was celebrated as a compromise between the two communities and helped accomplish the goals of improving the facilities and ultimately saving money for the school system.


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But when the Planning Commission and City Council turned down the proposed school site because it did not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan, the entire process appeared to be thrown back to square one. Now, though, City Council has set the process back even further.

That unfortunate setback came Wednesday, when City Council members Jeffrey Gardy and Curtis Milteer proposed a motion that would have the city manager take over the responsibility of finding a school site. The motion was suggested — and later passed — without any consultation of the School Board, whose job it is to select the site and manage construction.

Yes, city leadership has been part of the process from the beginning and controls much of the funding. And, yes, the School Board — since the Planning Commission’s refusal of the site — has dragged its feet in advancing the plan forward.

Now, the process has turned into a political debate that has City Council taking over a job it should not hold, leaving School Board members miffed at their City Council counterparts.

In the end, the best decision may have been for the city to take over the process. But, councilmen Gardy and Milteer made a mistake in not first discussing it with School Board members.

We hope our leaders can work through this little dustup and ultimately come to a sensible solution.

When it comes to our children’s education, we need everyone working in the same direction instead of ruffling each other’s feathers.