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Edgecombe nixes school deal

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By Lindell John Kay
Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TARBORO — The Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners killed a deal Tuesday to stave off a split of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

A joint committee made up of officials from Nash and Edgecombe counties developed a possible solution last week to a school funding dispute that would prevent the dissolution of the county-city school system.

Edgecombe commissioners voted 4-3 along racial lines against a compromise proposed by the Nash County Board of Commissioners. Chairman Leonard Wiggins and Commissioners Greg Hines, Viola Harris and Evelyn Powell voted against the proposal with Edgecombe Vice Chairman Johnathan Felton and Commissioners Billy Wooten and Donald Boswell voting in favor of the compromise. The deal called for Edgecombe to agree to a name change of the school system and a provision prohibiting the Nash-Rocky Mount school board from filing a funding lawsuit.

During heated discussion, Harris said Edgecombe County has no business signing off on dropping Rocky Mount from the name of the school system.

"If it's a deal killer then it's because they put it in there to kill the deal," Wiggins said.

Wooten said the Edgecombe board missed an opportunity to keep the school system intact over a matter of pride.

"Let's take the high road," Wooten said prior to the vote. “Let's keep these children and these communities together.”

The hour-long meeting began at 10 a.m. with Hines, who represents the Rocky Mount area, asking how Nash County has the authority to attempt a split of the school system created by the N.C. General Assembly in 1992.

Wiggins said any governing body has the right to seek change through legislation.

Felton said the main issue was funding and Nash commissioners had agreed to allow Rocky Mount to remain in the funding formula for another four years.

“We've done everything we've done to get it where it is today and we've basically gotten what we've wanted,” Felton said.

Edgecombe commissioners decided 4-3, along the same lines as the previous vote, to send a proposal back to the Nash County asking for a four-year draw down period before removing Rocky Mount from the school system's funding formula, but rejecting a name change and provision barring school board funding lawsuits.

Nash commissioners hadn't received official word from Edgecombe County by the time the Nash board met at 4 p.m.

Nash Commissioner Wayne Outlaw said the board has made five proposals over the past year, each one surrendering more ground with Edgecombe snubbing each compromise.

“How long are we going to do this?” asked Nash Commissioner Robbie Davis.

Commissioner Mary Wells said she didn't understand why the name change item was tossed into the mix at the last minute, but in the long run it shouldn't matter to Edgecombe County.

Commissioner Lou Richardson, who along with Wells has been opposed to a split, said the Nash board has bent over backwards to work with Edgecombe, apparently to no effect.

“My conscience is clear,” Richardson said.

Nash board Chairman Fred Belfield said he tried to reach a compromise to keep the school system intact, but now he was done trying.

Nash commissioners took no action at their meeting, stating they will continue to support legislation already in motion that would divide the school system along the county lines of Nash and Edgecombe.

N.C. Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, said he will fight any bill meant to split the system while continuing to look for a compromise.

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