PE Hearing Held

Published 4:43 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – May is not the scheduled month for county supervisors to make school board appointments. The end of that nearly six months process is scheduled for June, but May's meeting traditionally is the time for the public hearing.

And this one was the longest in recent memory.

One by one, speaker after speaker lauded the two incumbents, Buffalo District's Russell Dove and Leigh District's Harriett Fentress, who are seeking reappointment.

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Pamela Hurak, High School PTSO President spoke in support of both.

“I have never met a man who is so well-rounded, professional and concerned about his community,” she said of Dove, whom she has known for a long time. “And, it's quite apparent, when you talk to him about what he's doing, he's very experienced, he has the background, he's informed and that's what we need in our schools.”

Ms. Hurak offered that Mrs. Fentress' experience is “amazing.”

“Right now, we need people in there that know what they're doing through the experience of having done it for several years,” she said.

The Candidates

Supervisors will have two candidates to consider from the Buffalo District, including current chairman Russell L. Dove and Melvin R. Reynolds Jr. In the Leigh District, the board will weigh between incumbent Harriett Fentress and Dr. Timothy Cor-bett.

Each of the candidates presented by the citizens committees were given an opportunity to speak at the hearing.

Dr. Corbett, a family physician and pastor of a church in Appomattox, has practiced medicine locally for the past 14 years. He has three sons who have all graduated from the County's school.

“I'm real familiar with the community. I'm familiar with what goes on in the community to an extent,” Dr. Corbett said. “And I'm a personable person-a person that people can approach.”

Ms. Fentress has 32 years of educational experience and has a bachelor's degree in science and a masters degree in educa-tion. She has served as a teacher (including a year in Prince Edward), assistant principal, and a science department head at a vocational technical high school in Baltimore. She has served on the school board since 2007.

“I feel that I have a lot to give,” Ms. Fentress offered in her comments. “I feel that the school has taught me a lot. The school has opened some avenues that I had closed off. I feel that, as far as community concern, I'm in touch with members of the community.”

She noted her efforts in involvement in the Virso Community Center, worked with many young people, detailed her passion is education and has a passion for preparing students to become productive citizens.

Ms. Fentress, however, asked about the selection process. In the board's criteria for school board selection, she cited, it states at the April board meeting, the citizens committee (which assists in the selection process, though they do not make the appoint-ment) is to report to the full board a list of candidates for consideration. If the incumbent is the only citizen expressing an inter-est, the citizens committee is only required to submit one name-that of the incumbent-to supervisors for consideration. If the incumbent is ineligible for reappointment, the committee is to submit one or more names for consideration. The citizen commit-tee is also to provide the board with biographical information on the candidates.

Ms. Fentress noted that she submitted the volunteer form on April 1. On April 6, she noted, she informed her supervisor that she wanted to “be on the school board for another four years.” On March 13, many citizens spoke on her behalf. (The date on Dr. Corbett's citizen volunteer application in the board packet is April 9.)

Specifically, she asked about an extension Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt was granted when she had turned everything she had turned in in the timely manner “and met these requirements.” (Gantt had reported at the board's April board meeting that the citizen committee had not yet met with all of the candidates and had requested another week or two. Chairman Fore, at that meeting, noted that in the process of selection of school board members following the board's protocol noted that during April the final list of nominees will be announced and in May they would hold a public hearing on those nominees. If Gantt pre-sented the names in time to advertise for the May meeting, there should be no problem.)

Gantt noted that the committee he put together was the biggest committee and was a cross section of the district.

“The chairman of that committee had not had a chance to put together a meeting time and I asked for an extension and the board was nice enough to grant that extension,” Gantt said. “All the paperwork has been turned in. They were diligent in inter-viewing all the candidates and that's how it went. Once the board granted the extension, it opened it up.”

The two candidates were reportedly interviewed by the committee on April 15.

Gantt would later cite, “Everything was advertised. Everything was brought up at appropriate board meetings in front of the public in a timely manner.”

Other Candidates

“I was asked to put my name in the hat to run for the position on the school board. At first I didn't know that I had the time. After several instances with the school board, with the school, involving my son this year, I have realized that it's time to make the time,” Reynolds said.

He added, “I've come to realize, not just through myself, but through talking to many, many, many parents in the past few weeks that we need a system-we need a change. We need people on the school board that are involved with the school, that have children in the school because that's where the problem's at.”

Dove, a graduate of the County's schools, noted, “(I) Still have the passion, commitment and dedication to continue to serve all the kids of Prince Edward.”

More Public Speakers

A steady flow of those supporting Ms. Fentress and Dove expressed those sentiments.

“Mrs. Fentress has the time to deal with this position,” Virginia Dillard commented, after noting that she's also very quali-fied. “Mrs. Fentress has the opportunity and is blessed to be able to go out and bring information back to Prince Edward Coun-ty, because we all want one common goal and that's for Prince Edward to be on top. And you have to have the time and you have to be able to do the research to ensure that that occurs.”

“The inspiring character traits she exhibited as a young lady has prevailed as she has matured in an authentic, competent, en-ergetic, responsible community leader in the Meherrin area,” noted Brenda Gray.

Billy Sublett noted, “I can't think of anybody finer in this county on behalf of these children than Russell Dove.”

“I'm not sure I could do justice to Russell,” noted Wayne O'Brien, a counseling center director at Longwood who has worked closely with Dove (who also works at Longwood). “He's really a compassionate person and he's really passionate about the commitments he makes. I think he's honest, I think he's trustworthy and I think he really does dispel a myth about school board members don't talk to the community or listen.”

He assessed that “we would be doing a disservice to the community if we didn't reappoint Russell.”

Not everyone spoke of staying the course.

“I've heard so many nice things about…the current school board members and they're great people. They're great leaders in the community but time to get down to business and business at the school is bad. It's really bad,” Brock Robinson said.

The 1996 graduate of Prince Edward County High School, said he would “love” for his two-year old to be an Eagle, but “as of right now, unless things change and they change drastically and quickly, she's not gonna be going to that school system. That tears me up, it really does.”

Robinson, who also detailed he's a real estate agent, offers that most of the parents have already done their homework and that he sees “that they're moving to Cumberland, which has quite a bit higher tax rate. They're willing to pay more each year just so their child has a better education. They're willing to move to Charlotte County. I mean…it is what it is, folks. Now, the-se board members, they've done a good job and I appreciate that. I'm sure they've done the best that they can, but we need some new folks on there.”

Gantt Speaks

“Two years ago, I visited a lot of households in my district and parents begged me make a change in the school system,” Gantt commented at the end of the hearing. “Right after the election, I think it was, the school system was named in the bottom five percent in the nation. At some point in time, change has got to happen.”

Gantt, reflecting on a stay in the hospital, noted he talked to those who were giving him excellent care and was surprised at how many didn't live in Prince Edward and commuted.

“When I talk to businesses, when I talk to representatives from local colleges, the biggest problems they have are recruiting people that will actually live here in Farmville because of the schools-solely because of the schools,” Gantt said. “When I talk to realtors, and you heard from one tonight, same thing.”

Gantt reflected that he was an active real estate agent “probably 15 years ago” and worked for five years selling real estate full time “and our school system was excellent. People really…wanted to live in Prince Edward. Something has slipped. Some-thing has slipped. The change starts in Leigh. The change starts in Buffalo. It's gotta start somewhere, but we can't keep rubber stamping these appointments.”

Fore Comments

Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore conceded after the public comments that he kind of broke the board protocol that night for public hearings. Normally, he noted, they time speakers and move on. “But I kind of felt this was extremely important tonight and I let folks say what they had to say,” he noted.

One public speaker asked if the citizen committee is for Ms. Fentress if the supervisor of the district has the authority to overrule the committee.

The committee, Fore clarified, is chosen by the supervisor from people from the district to interview and take the politics out of qualifying those who want to serve on the school board. “They do this by interviewing fairly all of the folks who ask to be interviewed for the position. This board has the sole responsibility of appointing by majority the school board member for that district.”

The supervisor of the district doesn't pick the candidates, Fore added, nor do they appoint the candidates.