LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners did not sign off on the “joint resolution” recently approved by the county school board stating its opposition to Southside-Ashpole Elementary School’s inclusion into the state’s newly formed Innovative School District.
The Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education read aloud the resolution during its Nov. 9 meeting. In the resolution, which received unanimous school board approval, school district leaders asked for time to develop an improvement plan for the school, where just 18.4 percent, or fewer than one in five, of the students are working at grade level. The resolution states that “local control” that is “accountable to the public” is preferable to being included in a state school district.
County school district leaders have until Feb. 1 to either accept or reject the school’s inclusion. If they reject inclusion, the school in Rowland will not reopen for the 2018-19 academic year.
School board members introduced the resolution on Nov. 9 as a joint resolution between the school board and the Board of Commissioners. But it was not a joint resolution, said Tom Taylor, chairman of the Board of Commissioners chairman.
Taylor said he was not willing to sign the resolution because support was not unanimous.
Taylor wants to support the school board and the county’s public schools, but he said his desire to support the children is stronger.
“I want to do what’s best for the kids,” Taylor said.
It was in that spirit that commissioners gave verbal support to the concept of a joint resolution during an Oct. 16 joint meeting of the Board of Commissioners and the school board.
“I thought it was already done,” Commissioner Jerry Stephens said.
It was his understanding that after the commissioners expressed support for the idea of a joint resolution that County Manager Ricky Harris would write a letter of support and the letter was to be signed by Harris and Taylor and sent to the school board.
“I was mostly in support of the school board because we need to get on the same page with the Public Schools of Robeson County to do something to help the kids,” Stephens said.
As for being for or against Southside-Ashpole’s inclusion in the ISD, it may be too late, he said.
“You don’t have any other choice,” Stephens said. “You have to accept it and make the best of it.”
Closing Southside-Ashpole is not a good idea, he said.
“It’s not in the best interest of the students to close the school and then have to transport the students to another school,” Stephens said.
The state Board of Education approved Southside-Ashpole’s inclusion in the ISD on Nov. 2. It was the only school selected from an original list of 48 low-performing schools. Selection means Southside-Ashpole could be managed by a private entity, either for-profit or nonprofit, beginning with the 2018-19 school year, or it could be closed and its 270 students transferred to other schools in the system.
Commissioner Lance Herndon said his understanding was that the joint resolution being discussed Oct. 16 was about the Board of Commissioners and the school board taking action to improve Southside-Ashpole and the school district as a whole. He did not agree with the resolution as it was presented to the commissioners, as a statement against the school’s inclusion in the ISD.
“I would not support it in that form,” Herndon said.
And based on the information and school performance data presented to the Board of Commissioners he does not oppose Southside-Ashpole being part of the ISD, Herndon said.
“We have no place to go but up,” Herndon said.
Commissioner Roger Oxendine believed the joint resolution concept being supported during the joint meeting was about keeping Southside-Ashpole out of the ISD. And he was in favor of fighting the school’s inclusion in the state district, until Eric Hall, ISD superintendent, made his presentation during the Nov. 6 Board of Commissioners meeting. That’s when he and some other commissioners changed their minds.
“When I saw those numbers I was embarrassed,” Oxendine said. “I didn’t know it was that bad.”
The information presented by Hall showed years of low academic performance, Oxendine said. The students deserve better, and maybe it’s time to try something different and see if it works.
“It’s got to stop,” Oxendine said of the low performance at Southside-Ashpole. “It’s got to change.”
Members of both boards expressed support for a joint resolution on Oct. 16, Commissioner David Edge said. But, no vote was taken on the resolution during the Nov. 6 Board of Commissioners meeting.
Edge said he was shown a copy of the resolution by Chairman Taylor and was asked if he would sign it. Edge said he would not. Taylor then told him he wouldn’t sign it either, Edge said.
Edge supports the state’s takeover of Southside-Ashpole for a very simple reason.
“What do we have to lose?” he said.
Southside-Ashpole has been identified as the worst school in the state, he said.
“For 40 years we’ve known we have a failing school system as compared to other school systems in the state,” Edge said.
The county has been given the opportunity to let the state show us how to fix Southside-Ashpole, Edge said. The county should seize that opportunity.
One of the biggest concerns being heard from local school system leaders and from community members is that teachers will lose their jobs.
“The teachers are adults,” Edge said. “They can stand on their own feet. But the kids can’t, and they need help.”
All the commissioners agreed to support the school board and the idea of a joint resolution during the joint meeting, Commissioner Berlester Campbell said. They also took a stand in support of the school board taking action to improve the school.
“At the joint meeting, we took a stand in support of the school district,” Campbell said Wednesday.
But the Board of Commissioners has not taken a vote on a joint resolution, he said. The county manager and the Board of Commissioners chairman must sign off on the joint resolution.
Campbell is waiting for the manager and the chairman to do so. Campbell also is waiting to see a state plan and a Public Schools of Robeson County plan for improving Southside-Ashpole before he takes a stand for or against the school’s inclusion in the ISD.
“I want to see the plan the school board is going to do,” Campbell said.
The Robesonian was unable to reach Commissioners Noah Woods and Raymond Cummings.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.