It’s about time

Published 10:28 pm Friday, May 4, 2012

With the decision of the City Council this week to approve a site for construction of a new elementary school to serve the southern portion of the city and replace schools in Whaleyville and Holland, a long, twisted chapter of Suffolk’s political history comes to an end.

The city’s School Board and City Council have argued and delayed over the matter literally for decades. Members of both bodies have found themselves unable to come to agreement on the future of the project largely because of the politics involved in replacing two village schools with one that will not be located in either village. For many years, School Board members fought City Council’s request for consolidation, but in the midst of the latest recession, that fight became futile.

But unsurprisingly to anyone who spends much time watching Suffolk’s political processes, the battles over the school site were far from over. Once officials finally settled on the single-building option, the question of contention became obvious: Would the new school be located in Whaleyville or Holland? And if not exactly within one of those villages, to which of them would it be closer? Such questions are vividly important to many of the parents whose children will have to ride buses along Suffolk’s narrow country roads in the mornings and evenings, and those parents made impassioned arguments of their own about the new school.

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Once the School Board had finally cut through all the politics of that decision, there was only the slight matter of the School Board and City Council agreeing on a site in the general vicinity that had been chosen.

But in the way that seems to define the often dysfunctional relationship between the School Board and the City Council, the contentiousness was far from over. First the School Board proposed a site that was turned down by council, and then City Council proposed a site that was turned down by the School Board.

Finally the School Board came to council with a site that all felt might have some merit, but administrators did so without having a contract for the property, and council members balked at the possibility of approving a site whose price might rise the day after its current owners learned the city was seriously interested in it.

On Wednesday, after so many delays that most folks aren’t quite sure when the process began, administrators from Suffolk Public Schools brought that signed contract to City Council and finally received the approval they need to move ahead with the project.

It’s about time.