A motion by Commissioner Ricky Bullard that passed the Columbus County Board of Commissioners on a 5-2 vote Monday night asking Columbus County’s legislative delegation to merge the county’s two school systems has been met with a less-than-enthusiastic response from legislators, who said the request “ignores” current state law and who asked for much detailed financial information by Nov. 30.
In making his motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Amon McKenzie, Bullard said in full, “I would like to make a formal request to our Legislature Danny Britt, Representative Brenden Jones, Senator Bill Rabon and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to take the necessary actions needed to merge the Columbus County School System and Whiteville City School System into one. We ask that each perform an in-depth study on the issue and if such findings are favorable, then they could move forward on the merge.”
Besides Bullard and McKenzie, Commissioners Trent Burroughs, Giles E “Buddy” Byrd and Charles McDowell voted for the motion with Chairman James Prevatte and Edwin Russ voting no. McDowell, who opposes merger, said Tuesday that he voted in favor of the motion because he feared that, if it had failed, it would have been followed by another motion that simply called for a merger of the two systems, a motion that would have been binding should it have been successful.
A letter Tuesday from Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, and Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, to County Manager Mike Stephens said in response, “We are humbled the County Commissioners recognize our leadership ability and willingness to assist them in making such a difficult decision…We must point out however, the motion ignores current statutory authority. Our understanding is that we are being requested to gather information from the county once it is provided to us and to move forward with the process and ‘do what needs to be done’ to merge or not merge.”
Jones and Britt have consistently said that under G.S. 115C-68.1, a decision on whether to merge the school systems rests with the board of commissioners, not the General Assembly. They wrote that after witnessing “what appeared to be confusion” on the part of some county commissioners at an October meeting, they decided over two weeks ago that they needed to do “a little homework.”
They wrote Tuesday, “Unlike the county, we do not have the funding to commission an independent study from someone with experience in education.” However, they continued, “…since you would like for the General Assembly staff to look further, it is necessary that we provide them (GA staff) copies of all expenditures, not just educational ones, allocated by the school boards and county commissioners for at least the last four years…If we are to explore merger ever (sic) dollar will need to be scrutinized.”
Jones and Britt said they would need that information no later than Nov. 30 “so that we may have this information to the state staff prior to the new year. If we are going to do this, we want to be thorough. Once our staff has this data they will work to get us some facts and figures.”
The legislators asked the county to be cognizant that the General Assembly’s fiscal department is comprised of only ten people, “so please be cognizant of this timeline so we can get them what they need before we go back into session.”
See more details in Thursday’s print edition of The News Reporter.