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PE Supervisors Leave School Board, Citizens Waiting For Answers

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors met in closed session last week, and this quotes the motion, “for the purpose of discussing the performance of specific public appointees, namely the Prince Edward County School Board…”

The jury is out on whether or not the decision was a good one.

In 33 years of experience at The Herald I cannot recall a Board of Supervisors in Prince Edward, Buckingham or Cumberland voting to go into closed session to discuss the performance of its county's school board.

Action was expected following the closed session, but none was taken when Supervisors returned to their open meeting. Nor did board chairman William G. “Buckie” Fore provide any clue for the behind closed doors discussion of the School Board's performance. And Mr. Fore, a part-time employee of this newspaper, declined to comment when asked by The Herald to provide some sort of explanation for the closed session.

Jumping to conclusions in advance of the facts is, as Sherlock Holmes warned many times, a big mistake. But the Board of Supervisors didn't do the public or the School Board any favors by taking the extraordinary-and perhaps unprecedented, in county history-step of unanimously voting to shut the doors and talk about the performance of the county's School Board.

The lack of information invites, indeed it promotes, speculation.

Remembering that the Board of Supervisors appoints School Board members, the very fact of the closed session to discuss “the performance” of the School Board makes one appreciate the independence enjoyed by elected School Boards.

To have those who appointed you vote to leave their public meeting and convene in private to discuss your performance certainly underlines the position of unequal power between the two bodies in Prince Edward County. That can have a chilling effect on this and future School Boards and will likely move the county closer to electing School Board members on the same ballot as Supervisors.

And there should be elected School Boards in Prince Edward County. The School Board, like the Board of Supervisors, should answer directly to the people. The School Board should not answer to the Board of Supervisors.

Because the Board of Supervisors does not routinely discuss the performance of the School Board-in fact, may never have done so as the specific reason for a closed door meeting-it is obvious that something is up.

One hopes that whatever that something is manifests itself soon and in a productive way that contributes both to the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board and the pursuit of sustained excellence in Prince Edward County's Public Schools.

There is much that can be said, and will be said in this space, depending on what the Board of Supervisors eventually makes public.

If the Board of Supervisors had anything to say to, or about, the School Board, there have been numerous opportunities during the recently concluded budget process that saw those members together at more than one meeting. That makes the closed session even more enigmatic.

Speaking to someone's face is always better than speaking behind their back.

The fact that there was apparently no advance communication from the Board of Supervisors to the School Board about the closed session also encourages speculation, and not of the positive variety. Surely some public statement to frame that speculation, or at least point it toward accuracy, would have been far better than no comment following such an extraordinary closed meeting.

But perhaps it is best to follow the example of School Board chairman Russell Dove, who did comment when contacted by The Herald.

Speaking to this newspaper two days after the Board of Supervisors meeting-and he had not yet been contacted by any Supervisor to acknowledge or explain the closed session-Mr. Dove said, “I think the (School) Board is doing…mostly what it can do with the funds and other…resources available. So I'm really surprised to hear that the…performance was on the agenda.”

Mr. Dove said that he had not been made aware, by either the County or Board of Supervisors, of any specific issue related to the School Board, and noted, “I guess I'm optimistic (that the Supervisors' discussion was positive, rather than negative).”

The School Board chairman logically assumed that if there had been a specific concern then, at some point, the Board of Supervisors would have shared that concern with the School Board.

There used to be an official Liaison Committee, comprised of members of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, to facilitate good communication, understanding, and an effective working relationship between the two Boards. But the Liaison Committee has long since departed the scene and we are left with the Board of Supervisors meeting in closed session to talk about the School Board.

But maybe it's all good.

Perhaps the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors is poised to announce a major and sustained funding initiative for public education in the county. Supervisors, after all, are responsible for providing funding for the education of Prince Edward County's children. Supervisors control the purse strings, determine how much gas is put in the tank.

All eyes are now on the Board of Supervisors to fill in the blank created by last week's closed session.

May that void be filled productively.

-JKW-