Council’s response needed

Published 6:53 pm Monday, July 5, 2010

Today marks a deadline for Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson and the members of the Suffolk City Council. It marks the deadline — make that requested — they were to have a response back to the School Board in the engrossing power struggle the two boards are involved in.

It’s not known if such a response has been issued, but the School Board, in a letter dated June 22, had asked the City Council to back away from deciding a new location of an elementary school in the south end of the city and to clarify their intentions on funding school construction. And, they were asked to do so by Tuesday, July 6.

It was roughly this time last year the School Board and City Council, in an effort to save money and improve facilities, had come to the decision to close both Southwestern Elementary and Robertson Elementary, combining the students into one, new elementary school.

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At the time we applauded the efforts of both the Council and Board. We congratulated them on the tough, but fiscally responsible decision and appreciated the long, public decision-making process.

Well it appeared that goodwill and that well-thought out plan started to come apart when the city’s planning commission, then backed up by the Council, turned down the site selected for the school because it did not fit into the city’s comprehensive plan.

Then, the Council yanked a little bit more power in the process, by authorizing the city manager and her staff to select the site of the school. There was also some discussion – which left many confused – on allocating funds to renovate Robertson Elementary during the new school’s construction.

Confused yet? You’re not alone.

In their letter, the School Board cited Virginia’s constitution, legal precedent and Supreme Court rulings on the boundaries that each elected body must operate in. The Board insisted the Council had overstepped its authority and in short, needed to back off.

We agree.

The City Council will meet again this week and should back away from its position of selecting the site of the new school. They, in their role, should be a partner with the School Board in the site selection and stick to the plan that not only gave the students in these areas a quality school, but also helped ensure the fiscal maturity shown in consolidating these schools.

The decision to close these two schools was tough enough a year ago. To reopen these wounds now is irresponsible on many fronts.