Halifax officials want school district consolidation suit dismissed

Posted December 22, 2015

— Halifax County officials on Tuesday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three advocacy groups seeking to merge the county's three school districts into one to improve local education.

A group of parents, the NAACP and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security sued the Halifax County Board of Commissioners in August, alleging that the board has maintained an inefficient system that wastes money and provides unequal financial support to area schools. The problems create obstacles for local children, running counter to North Carolina's constitutional guarantee of a sound, basic education to all students, they argue.

"If you have to choose between three superintendent salaries versus putting education material in the classroom, that money should go directly to the students' learning," said Rebecca Copeland, chairwoman of the Coalition for Education and Economic Security.

Halifax County's three school districts serve a total of about 7,000 students. The enrollment in Roanoke Rapids Graded School District is 65 percent white, while Halifax County Schools is 85 percent black and Weldon City Schools is 94 percent black, according to state Department of Public Instruction data.

The plaintiffs contend that the Board of Commissioners has rigged the distribution of local sales tax revenue to benefit the Roanoke Rapids and Weldon districts at the expense of the county district.

"We were never fully integrated. We've been segregated the whole time," Copeland said. "These systems pop up in Jim Crow, and it is that legacy that needs to be overthrown."

Attorneys for the county said the Board of Commissioners doesn't have the authority to consolidate the school districts, but the merger proponents said a state statute says otherwise.

"You have people here who want to keep the status quo. They don't want change," said David Harvey, president of the Halifax County branch of the NAACP.

Halifax County Schools has been among the worst-performing school districts in North Carolina for years, and the state Department of Public Instruction has been working with the district under court order since 2009 to improve student performance.

In August, the State Board of Education assumed control of the district's finances and all new hiring decisions, saying the school board was meddling too much in school operations.

No decision was made Tuesday on the motion to dismiss, but the plaintiffs said they plan to appeal if the ruling goes against them.


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