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Candidates weigh in on merger talks
Opinions vary widely on combining city, county schools

Monday, September 30, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County School Board candidates have varied opinions about whether the school division should merge with Martinsville City Public Schools.

Discussions about merging the Henry County and Martinsville school divisions were held in 2010 and 2011 between officials of the county and city school divisions and county and city governments.

The discussions ended after a majority of members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors said it was time to cease merger talks, based on feedback from residents in their districts that merging the two divisions could result in higher taxes, crowded classrooms and other concerns. Some supervisors said many residents are satisfied with the county school division as it is.

Henry County School Board candidate Curtis Millner Sr. said recently he thinks merging the Henry County and Martinsville school divisions “is just a matter of time” unless a major company/companies that would employ a total of 2,000 to 3,000 people were to locate in this area.

Millner, who represents the Iriswood District on the school board, is running unopposed for a fourth term.

“I’ve always been a proponent of it (merger). I’m still a proponent of it,” he said.

“It would definitely save money,” he said. He added one of the central-office administrations would be eliminated, and the need to replace John Redd Smith Elementary School probably would be eliminated, with the closure of JRS and its students reassigned.

Merger would require a complete realignment of school zones, and some students could be reassigned to schools closer to where they live, which would reduce travel time and costs, Millner said he believes. Among the examples, he gave, were that children in the Mountain Valley area on Route 57 East near Pittsylvania County possibly could go to Martinsville High School rather than Magna Vista as they do now, and students living near Patrick County possibly could go to Martinsville Middle School rather than Laurel Park Middle as they do now.

“We probably could reduce the transportation fleet with less distance to travel,” he said.

“Martinsville could perhaps close Clearview Early Learning Center” and reassign those students to other elementary school preschools, he said.

“I want to make the most efficient use of buildings we have and provide the best education of students,” he said. Savings from a merger could be used for such things as hiring more teachers and reducing class sizes, he said.

Candidates for the Blackberry District seat on the county school board are Henry County Sheriff’s deputy Michael Hooper and retired educator Thomas “Tom” Auker.

Hooper said he would have to look at the data and the pros and cons of a merger before he would comment.

Auker said a merger of the two school divisions needs to be explored, looking at all options and impacts, including finances, possible school closures or loss of staff. “In the long run, it probably would be good for both parties,” he speculated.

Dr. Merris Stambaugh, who is conducting a write-in campaign for the Collinsville District seat on the county school board, said he “certainly wouldn’t see” the school divisions merging without the city of Martinsville reverting to a town in Henry County. Officials have said if Martinsville reverts, it would save the city money because the county would take over certain operations — such as constitutional offices and, more than likely, schools — that the city now maintains.

If Martinsville reverts, it would make “a lot more sense” for the school boards to follow suit and merge, Stambaugh said.

He said he would need to look further into merger before making additional comments about that issue.


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