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Change is coming to the Halifax County School District

Highlights -- The three school districts in Halifax County are developing a revenue-sharing agreement that will bring more local money to the Halifax County School District -- New Superintendent Eric Cunningham will take the helm in the Halifax County School District in July -- Two new Halifax Board of Education members will be joining the Board in July. Two current members will be leaving

This next year will be a time of great change in Halifax as the Halifax County School District welcomes a new superintendent, the district’s Board of Education welcomes two new Board members, and the three school districts in Halifax County develop a revenue-sharing agreement.

The Halifax County School District, a historically poor district with a large number of students who qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch programs, has a lot to gain from the revenue-sharing agreement.

2014-15 free-and-reduced-price lunch applications for the Halifax County School District (Information courtesy of the state Department of Public Instruction)
2014-15 free-and-reduced-price lunch applications for the Halifax County School District (Information courtesy of the state Department of Public Instruction)

While the details are still being worked out, essentially Weldon City Schools and the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District have agreed to share sales tax revenue they receive for their school systems with the Halifax County School District.

This was the end result of a push to get the Halifax Board of Commissioners to change the tax distribution method in Halifax County from ad valorem to per capita. Basically, ad valorem distributes sales tax revenue based on property while per capita distributes the revenue based on population. The Halifax County School District would have received more county money under the per capita distribution method.

The Board of Commissioners never made a decision on that change. Instead, the three Halifax school districts agreed to come up with the revenue-sharing agreement.

The method of tax revenue distribution was also part of the lawsuit brought against the Halifax Commissioners by the Coalition for Education and Economic Security (CEES), the Halifax County branch of the NAACP, and three parents and guardians of children in Halifax County public schools. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, though the groups appealed the dismissal.

Halifax Board of Education chair Debby Hardy said the pending revenue-sharing agreement is welcome news.

“We’re truly grateful for them wanting to do this,” she said.

She also added that the Halifax County School District doesn’t have much input into the form the ultimate agreement takes. The Roanoke Rapids Graded School District and Weldon City Schools are the ones with the funds, Hardy said, and they’re the ones who will get to decide how those funds are split up.

“We don’t have anything to negotiate with,” she said.

New superintendent

At the end of this month, Superintendent Elease Frederick will step down. She has worked in the Halifax County School District for more than 40 years and served as permanent superintendent since 2009. In July, the new superintendent, Eric Cunningham, will take over.

According to a press release from the Halifax County Board of Education, Cunningham has spent more than 20 years in public education in both North Carolina and Virginia. Most recently, he spent four years as the Associate Superintendent for Facilities and Operations in Nash-Rocky Mount Schools. He has also served as Assistant Superintendent for Administration in Caroline County, Virginia; a supervisor and director of human resources in Spotsylvania County, Virginia; and Assistant Director of Personnel Services in Lynchburg City Public Schools in Virginia.

“I am deeply humbled and grateful to the Board of Education for giving me this opportunity,” Cunningham said in a phone interview.

In the days and weeks leading up to him assuming the helm in the Halifax County School District, Cunningham says he has been trying to learn as much about the district as he can.

“Right now, what I’m doing is trying to understand the current conditions, the current challenges, the current issues and building relationships,” he said.

There have been long documented tensions between current Superintendent Frederick and some members of the Halifax Board of Education. At one point last year, some members even fired her before other members of the Board reversed the decision. When asked if that tension worried him, Cunningham said he was looking forward, not back.

“I’m looking at it like this,” he said. “When you’re sitting in your car, there’s a reason why the front window is bigger than your rearview window.”

Hardy said that she considered the Board “very united” in supporting Cunningham. All Board members but one — Carolyn Hawkins, who was absent — voted to hire Cunningham, Hardy said.

New Board Members

The Halifax County Board of Education will be seeing some dramatic changes in its make-up in July as well. Hardy and Board member Donna Hunter will be leaving the Board and one newcomer and one returning member will be joining.

The newcomer is James A. Davis III, and the returning Board member is Tyus Few. Hunter lost her seat in the recent elections in March. Hardy did not run. Both have served on the Board for 24 years.

Hunter said she has no complaints about her time on the Board.

“I hope I have made some progress towards our goals,” she said.

She also said she hopes the new Board can keep its focus and make good choices for Halifax County School District students.

“They need to be the people the citizens of Halifax County elected to do a good job,” she said.

Hardy said she has high expectations for the incoming Board members, and she expressed optimism for the future of the district.

“Halifax County is my home forever and I’ll just continue to hope that things get better every day,” she said.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.