Smithfield talks funding Schoolhouse Museum docent

Published 4:51 pm Monday, December 4, 2023

The Schoolhouse Museum in Smithfield is asking the town and Isle of Wight County to jointly take over funding its docent salary.

According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, the museum pays its docent $10,572 per year. Museum President Jessie Linyear, at the Town Council’s Nov. 27 committee meetings, asked that the town contribute half the cost, or $5,376 annually.

“We’re asking the county to pay the other half,” Linyear said.

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Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said Isle of Wight is aware of Linyear’s request and that county supervisors will consider it when the county begins its fiscal year 2024-25 budget development, but called speculation on the funding “premature.” The town and county typically begin budget planning early in the year and adopt budgets in May or June for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The museum, which highlights the educational experience of African Americans living in Isle of Wight County during the first half of the 20th century, is housed in a circa-1932 one-room addition to the Christian Home School, which once stood near the county’s border with Suffolk near the Chuckatuck community. The building was moved to its current location on Main Street in 2005 and renovated into a museum as the town’s Jamestown 2007 project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the 1607 arrival of English settlers.

Stallings, reading from the museum’s 2004 agreement governing its operations, said the document states the museum is to operate independently and provide for its own staffing “until such time as an agreement for permanent staffing can be reached by the committee, the town and Isle of Wight County.” The town, however, owns the building and land, and is responsible for its exterior maintenance.

Stallings offered two options for meeting Linyear’s request. One would be to make the museum a branch of the Isle of Wight County Museum, and its docent a town employee. The Isle of Wight County Museum, since 2018, has operated as a joint venture of the town and county under an agreement that delegates operating costs to Isle of Wight and personnel costs to Smithfield.

The other option, Stallings said, is for the town to contribute the requested funds as a donation. Smithfield contributes funds annually to nonprofit organizations serving the town and county, including the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, Genieve Shelter, Isle of Wight Arts League, Smithfield Farmers Market, 1750 Courthouse, Christian Outreach Program and the Friends of the Smithfield Library. A collective $67,755 is included in this year’s town budget for the nonprofits.

Councilman Randy Pack said he preferred the donation option, which would allow the museum to retain oversight of any employees.