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County will get school merger study on Dec. 3

Revised on: 11.12.2018 at 11:40 a.m.

Posted on: 11.9.2018 at 02:02 p.m.

A report on the advantages and disadvantages of a merger of the Columbus County and Whiteville City school systems commissioned in August will be presented to the Columbus County Board of Commissioners at their first meeting in December.

Emerald Education, a Raleigh consulting firm headed by former N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and Philip Price, former state public schools chief financial officer, will give its findings to commissioners at a meeting that starts at 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 3. The meeting will be held in commissioners’ chambers on the second floor of the Columbus County Courthouse Annex on West Smith Street.

County commission meetings are usually held at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month, but the Dec. 3 meeting was rescheduled for 9 a.m. because Commissioner Giles “Buddy” Byrd cannot be available that evening.  The board already was scheduled to swear in newly elected Commissioner Jerome McMillian and conduct its annual reorganization, which involves election of a chairman and vice chairman, and members felt that all commissioners need to be present. They decided to reschedule the meeting to the morning hours even before it was known that the merger report would be presented.

The Emerald group was hired after the county and city school boards passed conflicting resolutions on merger in October 2017. The county board of education favors a merger of the two systems, while the city board opposes it. County commissioners tried to defer the decision to the state legislature, but Rep. Brenden Jones, R. Columbus, and Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, told them that state law places a merger decision in the hands of the county commissioners, not the General Assembly. The legislators recommended that commissioners form an ad hoc committee to try to decide on a course of action.

A committee composed of representatives of both school boards and the county commissioners advertised for proposals for educational experts to conduct a study on the pros and cons of merging the two systems. Emerald Education was hired in August to conduct the study, and that is the report which commissioners will receive on Dec. 3.

While it is not expected that any decisions will be made on Dec. 3 because commissioners will not have had time to study the Emerald report, nothing would preclude a commissioner from making a motion either to merge or not merge the two systems.

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