Elected School Board on Ballot

The question of whether the Charlottesville School Board should be elected will be on the November ballot. A press release issued today by the folks who have spearheaded the movement says that the Charlottesville registrar, Sheri Iachetta, certified that 10% of registered voters had signed the petition, validating its place on the ballot. Virginia referenda generally pass, so this is likely the first major step towards moving to an elected school board.

The concept of an elected school board is one that started among Republicans a few years ago. They were unable to get any traction until the Scottie Griffin saga, which left many community members unhappy with the school board. From there, the floodgates opened.

Coincidentally, it was just this week that the news emerged that Portsmouth is looking to move back to an appointed school board, in an effort to repair the combative, racially divided board. The board has recently been caught up in a legal battle over their choice of superintendent. If they succeed, they’d be the first Virginia municipality to revert to an appointed school board since elected school boards became an option in 1992.

(Via Rick Sincere)

08/10 Update: James Fernald has a story in today’s Daily Progress.

17 Responses to “Elected School Board on Ballot”


  • If we had an elected school board, perhaps Leah Puryear would be the chair!

    We elect our city council, I doubt if an elected school board would constitute an ideological difference, but it would have a huge accountability that hasn’t been present in the past.

    Changes are made up of “baby steps” and this may be the first in a long time for the city schools.

    We have to get Walker, Buford and CHS fully accredited if we want to keep legislators, who don’t have a clue, out of our classrooms. It can be done; it’s being done in Harlem, Dallas, and other schools with over 50% poverty rate. We have to expect our kids to succeed and they will….presently, we just give excuses for failure, so we get the result we expect.

  • I have been opposed to the idea of an elected School Board, primarily because of who supported it. However, after the Griffin debacle, I think there is something to be said for having School Board members who are politicians, who have to meet the public and defend their positions. I’m still not convinced that this is the solution to our problems, but I signed the petition so that we, the community, could have a public debate about this issue.

  • The idea that character and capabilities of school board members are more important than how they are selected is not new. In 2002, there was a move to switch back to an appointed school board in Prince Geoarge’s county, Maryland (“Activists oppose new PG board,” Apr 3 2002, Washington Times), which was reported locally at the time.

    When things don’t go right, the impulse is to change the process. When elected officials perform poorly, we don’t switch to a dictatorship. We replace the bad people even on the chance that the replacement might be worse. If there’s a long history of bad decisions, we change the process. We shouldn’t expect miracles from an elected school board. Just as we don’t expect much from city council.

  • I was down with the “make the school board accountable” concept until I realized that, on the last two occasions when the school board was up for appointment, damned near everybody wasn’t reappointed. (Just Peggy Van Yahres this last time, not a soul the time before that.)

    Accountability seems to be in full effect.

  • I’m not sure it was “accountability” that hasn’t reappointed school board members in the past twenty years (go back to Joe Mooney and pairing of the middle schools) as much as it is “pay back”.
    You know the politics in this town, if you don’t do as instructed by the folks behind the curtain you’re out of there. That’s true for all boards and commissions. I guess it just depends on who you mean when you say the school board needs to be accountable…to the students and parents OR to the city politicians (please note, I did NOT say city council).
    Please be reminded that Peggy Van Yahres was the only member that WANTED to return to the school board. Two excellent members of the school board were so disgusted with everything that had happened the past year they wanted out and did not reapply!

  • Julie Gronlund, the current President of the School Board, is also a reappointment, but I take your point. It should be noted, however, that because of the Griffin Debacle, there was extraordinary interest in the process this time around. Even then, the City Council announced on more than one occasion that they would really like more candidates.

    At the risk of repeating myself, I’m not convinced yet, but I think the public debate will be useful. In general terms, I like the idea of direct democracy, but I understand the risks as well. (See the story from Portsmouth linked in the original message. Racial divisions in an elected school board? Sadly, yes, I can see that happening here…)

  • I think knowing you have to be reelected to keep your job has a huge pro and a huge con…. The PRO is that the board members will act knowing there will be repercussions for their actions… The CON is that the board members will act knowing there will be repercussions for their actions. Sometimes people need to make decisions that arent politically popular but need to be done… Some of the most important legislation and supreme court decisions were passed/made despite public opinion being against it (ie. Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Womens Rights) On the otherhand I think parents should have some say in who runs their school systems

    Just thought of another issue… Will city residents who dont have children in the public school system be able to vote?

  • Everyone has a stake in the schools whether you have kids or not. The public school’s budget is a huge chunk of tax money that we all pay into. Also, the schools have a big impact on the quality of life because of the job they are trusted with. A literate and educated public means less poverty and fewer of the associated social problems. That impacts all of us. Every registered city voter will be eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum and the school board elections if the referendum passes. I have school age kids and I live in the city but my kids don’t go to the public schools. I will definitely be voting for an elected board and I will vote in the school board elections if the referendum passes.

    The city school system is one of the most costly in the state and one of the least succesful when it comes to educating poor, disadvantaged kids. If you don’t believe me just look at some of the stats on the state Department of Education’s page. Compare different divisions test scores, cost per pupil and the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches. It is shocking that a school system in the city that is the home to UVa does such a terrible job with kids that most need good public education.

  • “Semi Says:
    August 10th, 2005 at 12:09 pm
    I have been opposed to the idea of an elected School Board, primarily because of who supported it”

    I’ve waited 24 hours before I responded to this note. How can you possibly oppose an idea based on who supported it??? Please think for yourself. Be informed, read, listen, talk, debate…but don’t instantly make a decision based on who is speaking. In the USA we have debates, editorials, etc. so we can discuss all points of view. PLEASE don’t be so closed minded. One of the great things about living in VA is we don’t register by political parties, you can vote for the Libertarian Party, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party or Independent in the same election!
    Base your response and vote on the subject not because who supports or opposes a change but because YOU want or don’t want the change!
    THINK FOR YOURSELF! And throw out those blinders and labels.
    Sorry, just couldn’t let it go….

  • I dunno, I think judging ideas based on who supports them is reasonable shorthand. That’s a big part of why we have political parties, after all — by identifying a group of people with whom we substantially agree, we can trust them to tell us what to think about complex matters. I don’t understand social security. I’m probably not going to, because I don’t have the time to learn all about it. But I trust the Democratic Party when they tell me that privatizing it is a bad idea.

    Of course, I must agree that ideas ought to be judged on their own merits, and I strive to do so myself. But it’s a busy world. :)

  • Wow – it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to let this one go unchallenged. “…by identifying a group of people with whom we substantially agree, we can trust them to tell us what to think about complex matters?” This seems like an extremely dangerous, if not entirely ignorant approach to the political process. It does explain a few things, though, such as the 2000 and 2004 national elections, the unbelievable safety of Virgil Goode’s seat, and why George Allen is being seriously mentioned as a presidential candidate.

  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil; just trust in the party line? Bah, Bah, the thoughts of sheep.

  • Wow – it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to let this one go unchallenged. “…by identifying a group of people with whom we substantially agree, we can trust them to tell us what to think about complex matters?”

    You might not like it, but it’s obviously true. :) Something like 30% of America still believes that WMDs were found in Iraq, and they’re all Republicans. They have found a group of people with whom they agree, and they believe what they’re told to believe.

    When it comes to complex matters, we all have to rely on trusted sources. I, for example, choose to believe much of what I’m told by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Ditto for the Virginia Democratic Party. By extension, they tell me what to believe on many matters, which I often go along with because it’s easy.

    There can be no question that we all do this — we judge ideas in part based on who supports them and who opposes them. The difference between you and me is that I admit that I do so. :)

  • Back to the original topic of this discussion; Portsmouth didn’t get 1/5 of the necessary signatures needed for their petition drive to abandon School Board elections.
    To quote from the Virginian-Pilot
    “This cockamamie idea may just be the ultimate expression of Portsmouth’s inferiority complex. The petition drive rests on two erroneous, even cynical assumptions: First, that Portsmouth is incapable of doing any better; and second, that the election system is fatally flawed. _____Portsmouth began electing School Board members in 1996. Presently, 107 localities across Virginia do the same. Not one has concluded that too much public accountability is a bad thing for public education.______the school system has begun the hard work of a comeback. But years of challenges lay ahead. An elected board that’s responsible and effective is the best instrument for assuring that public education gets the high priority it deserves in Portsmouth.”
    If you wish to read the entire editorial go to “The Virginian-Pilot” August 3, 2005 Bad medicine for Portsmouth schools.

    Waldo, you’re right, we tend to read editorials by writers we agree with and ignore the others. We listen to the talk radio host that “makes sense”. But that’s not the wisest way to make decisions. Thanks to technology we can get “Cliff Notes” from every political party and candidate. We need to read and listen and make our own decisions!
    We are complex creatures with complex thoughts…fiscal conservatives and social liberals…try to avoid abortions at all cost but okay stem cell research , ban capital punishment, keep your laws out of consenting adult bedrooms, but please cut my middle class tax rate of 30%.
    That is a description of the thinking of most of my friends, not a political party.
    Give that independent candidate a chance! Remember David when he was a member of the “Green Party”. He’s the same man, but just wearing a Democratic name tag. Parties change…remember Jefferson was a Democrat and Lincoln was a Republican.

  • hlamont Says:
    August 11th, 2005 at 10:20 pm
    “I’ve waited 24 hours before I responded to this note. How can you possibly oppose an idea based on who supported it???”

    Sheesh … I go on vacation for a few days and look what happens! ;^)

    Okay, let me be more specific. I was skeptical of the idea of an elected School Board because Rob Schilling supported it, and he is a dunce. Also, the Republicans steal elections. However, recent events have brought me to the realization that we need to have a public discussion about our current system of appointed school board members. It was in the interest of that discussion that I signed the petition; it is perfectly possible that this discussion will convince me that an appointed board is still the way to go, but I thought the debate worthwhile.

    I also agree that we should all be familiar with the important political issues of the day and come to our own well-informed positions. However, there are many other issues which do not rise high enough to be seen on my radar screen, and for those I depend on my elected representative to represent me … or not, in which case I vote to the throw the scoundrel out. This is the beauty of representative democracy, which neatly ties in to the original subject of this thread!

  • Is Rob Schilling a dunce because he ran on a Republican ticket? Or is he, the individual, a dunce…you know there is a difference!
    I chose to ignore the “Republicans steal elections” comment because I’m used to sore losers (I DID NOT VOTE FOR BUSH in either election… but I’m a middle school teacher).
    How you do know when to vote the scoundrel out if you don’t pay attention to the “other issues”?
    I thought I was a Pott’s supporter, but after today, I’m leaning towards a vote for Kaine. It doesn’t take a lot of time to check out who supports what in the local and state government. Mark Warner has been an outstanding governor for VA, but you know what, John Warner has been an outstanding senator for VA! I’d vote for Mark W. over George A. any day, but I’d vote for John Warner over Chuck Robb the same day!

    What was it they said in Portsmouth…
    “Based on recent election results, there’s no reason to have so little faith in Portsmouth voters. In 2004, they cleaned house on City Council, and in June they sacked their popular sheriff for unbecoming behavior. Surely, voters can repair the School Board without deep-sixing democracy in the process”.
    Different parties, same goals! You got to read between the lines!

    Waldo thanks for establishing the place to “talk”!

  • I signed the petition to have a referendum on an elected school board. A question about a fundamental way that a democracy works should usually be settled by a referendum and the pro-elected-school-board people deserve one. But when the vote happens I’m going to vote against the proposal.

    How about if we elect people to the jail board? And the RWSA. Or the Library Board. Or the Planning Commission. What’s so special about this board as opposed to any other that we should make it be elected?

    Look at how hard it is in so many election cycles for both the Republicans and Democrats in Charlottesville to recruit a good candidate for each spot on Council. The local Republicans could only find 2 candidates for 3 open seats last year. One of them stabbed 3 people and the other was a creationist crackpot who wasn’t even from Charlottesville. Most local Republicans knew to be embarrassed. These candidates didn’t really represent the best of the grassroots GOP.

    If we start making all of these other boards directly elected then we’re going to end up with a bunch of crackpots and loonies running them for lack of a large enough pool of truly intelligent, talented people willing to go through a political campaign. It’ll be a ballot where you can choose between raving Republican crackpots or starry-eyed neo-communist Democrats. The worst of both sides will rise to the occasion to fill the vacuum. It’s one thing for the local Dems or Republicans to find a few smart, capable people and get them to sit on a board. Getting them to deal with being candidates is a whole other thing.

    I’m not saying that this should be the last word. Maybe someday if this becomes a city of over 100,000 people then we’ll have a larger pool of political talent and it will make more sense to have these positions be directly elected. Maybe a few cycles showing vigorous primaries on both sides will convince me that serious candidates without mental illness problems are out there. But right now I’m opposed to the idea for Charlottesville.

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