Posted on: 07.2.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
By Allen Turner
Former N.C. Supt. of Public Instruction June Atkinson will be a member of a team of consultants who will conduct a study on whether to merge the Columbus County and Whiteville city school systems.
An ad hoc committee of the county and city school boards and county commissioners met briefly Monday to unanimously select a firm originally recommended by the superintendents of the county and city school systems.
Raleigh-based Emerald Education, founded by Phillip Price, a retired chief financial officer of the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI), was the lowest bidder among three firms submitting proposals. The firm was recommended by county school Supt. Alan Faulk and city school Supt. Kenny Garland when the ad hoc committee first began looking for individuals and firms to ask to bid on conducting the study.
The bid proposal did not identify all members of the Emerald consulting team but indicated that both Price and Atkinson will be actively involved in the study.
Emerald’s bid of $19,500 was significantly less than a $75,500 proposal from Evergreen Solutions of Tallahassee, Fl. and a $119,000 bid from School Efficiency Consultants of Raleigh, Charlotte and Lexington.
Because the county government will pay for the study, the committee’s recommendation will be considered by Columbus County commissioners at their meeting Monday. If, as expected, commissioners approve the selection, the ad hoc committee will schedule another meeting in Whiteville with representatives of Emerald Education before a contract for the study is formally signed.
Emerald Education indicated in their proposal that they can complete the study in three months. In contrast, Evergreen Solutions estimated 120 days for completion and School Efficiency Consultants did not specify a timeframe in their proposal.
In the Emerald bid proposal, Price wrote that his firm ultimately will present a written report showing “advantages and disadvantages” of merger and provide supporting evidence for their recommendations. “Our experience, background, and expertise (on) of all North Carolina’s public schools will be beneficial in doing such a sensitive study that will have a significant impact on your students and communities,” he said.
Price said the study will include determining the impact of merger in other school districts, collecting and compiling data that will be validated by central office staff at the city and county school systems, examining and assessing existing aspects of each existing school system related to financial outcomes, academic/curriculum opportunities, personnel, operating costs and capital outlay, economic impact and student enrollment.
The consultants will determine what specific criteria they feel are necessary to have a successful school district based on information that will be reviewed and discussed with members of the ad hoc committee and other interested stakeholders.
They will develop a review matrix that will utilize all pertinent data to determine recommendation of whether the current structure of two separate districts or a merged district would better address each critical outcome and then present their findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report. They promised to maintain ongoing conversations with the committee and provide progress reports throughout the time the study is conducted.
Nine firms and individuals were asked by the ad hoc committee to submit proposals. One of them, former Columbus County Supt. of Schools Dan Strickland, declined to be considered to conduct the study and five did not respond to the committee’s invitation. Those not responding were Asheville schools attorney John Metcalfe, Raleigh law firm Tharrington and Smith, Whiteville accounting firm Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams, Research Triangle Institute and Ben Matthews, formerly with N.C. DPI.
County commissioners created the ad hoc committee at the suggestion of Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, and Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, who told commissioners that a decision on merger rests with the commissioners, not the legislature. The committee is composed of three members each of the city and county boards of education and two county commissioners.
Representing the county schools on the ad hoc committee are Barbara S. Yates-Lockamy, Randy Coleman and Monte Herring. City school board members on the committee are Coleman Barbour, Kandle Rogers and Greg Merritt. Also sitting on the committee are county commissioners Amon McKenzie and Ricky Bullard. Herring is the group’s chairman and Barbour serves as vice chair.