Alleghany Highlands Public Schools will be the name of the joint school division that will be operated by Alleghany County and Covington.

That name was designated by the Joint School Services Committee in a meeting held Wednesday.

“I view this as the marking of a new chapter,” said Jonathan Arritt, a member of the Covington School Board and co-chairman of the Joint School Services Committee.

The county and city school divisions are set to merge July 1, 2022. Students will start attending the joint school division in fall 2023.

The committee also considered naming the school division the Alleghany Highlands Regional Public Schools, Alleghany Highlands Consolidated Public Schools and Alleghany County-Covington Public Schools.

Alleghany Highlands was chosen because it reflects a regional identity that encompasses Alleghany County, Covington, Clifton Forge and Iron Gate.

“The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism has been branding us with that name for so long. It’s kind of a name that includes everyone,” said Jacob Wright, chairman of the Alleghany County School Board.

Wright is also a co-chair of the Joint School Services Committee.

Covington Mayor Tom Sibold said Alleghany Highlands conveys the idea that the region is cooperating and moving forward together.

“One of the things that has held us back for so long is that we didn’t cooperate as a region,” the mayor said.

Discussions on merging the governments and school divisions have failed. But when the Joint School Services Committee began meeting in 2019, it started putting together a plan that was eventually approved by both local governments.

“We don’t want it to be us versus them anymore. From now on, it’s always going to be for us. I think Alleghany Highlands says us,” said Gerald Franson of the Alleghany County School Board.

Alleghany Highlands was the name of a joint school division that was operated by Alleghany County and Clifton Forge from 1983 to 2001. That division was dissolved in 2001 when Clifton Forge became a town within Alleghany County.

Dennis Witt, a former Halifax County school superintendent, has been hired as a facilitator to guide the Joint School Services Committee through the merger process.

The joint school board will have seven members — four from Alleghany County and three from Covington.

Witt said that between April and July of 2022, the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors and Covington City Council will appoint members ot the joint board. The members will serve staggered terms.

“We have to finish out what we are doing and be ready to run the new school system,” Witt said.

“This coming year is the conversion year. If you will, things have to really happen this year,” he said.

Salaries and benefits for teachers are scheduled to be equalized in 2023-2024. A formula for funding the school division must also be formalized.

The plan calls for funding between the county and city to be based on the number of pupils from each locality.

Witt is recommending that a mechanism for resolving funding disputes also be implemented. He suggested that a conference committee be formed to resolve budgetary issues.

The Virginia General Assembly has approved funding to aid in the merger of the school divisions.

The state will allocate $1.2 million this year. That will be followed by $600,000 allocations over the next three years.

Arritt said the initial $1.8 million will be used to equalize salaries ($500,000), equalize benefits ($300,000) and offer an early-retirement incentive ($500,000).

The Joint School Services Committee began its work in 2019 with $400,000 from the General Assembly. Arritt said that money has been expended, but The Alleghany Foundation has agreed to provide $100,000 to cover future expenses.

“We know where to put the car and start moving forward,” said Tamala Preston, chairwoman of the Covington School Board.

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