School Board Candidates Running Unopposed

Karl Ackerman writes:

November 2009 marks the third election for the Charlottesville City School Board. Three members were elected in the first cycle in 2005 (Ned Michie, Juan Wade, and Leah Puryear), with six candidates running. Four members were elected in the second cycle in 2007 (Kathleen Galvin, Colette Blount, Llezelle Dugger, and Alvin Edwards), with seven candidates running. This year three slots are open and, to date (June 9th is the closing date for nominating petitions), there are only three candidates running for the three open positions—the three incumbents: Michie, Wade, and Puryear.

When they declared their candidacies earlier in the spring they announced that they were running as a team.

Our School Board elections are non-partisan. When candidates (especially incumbents) run as a team, they effectively skirt this provision by making it nearly impossible for a single candidate to win.

I don’t think Michie, Wade, and Puryear teamed up with the goal of limiting their opposition. But this is what they have effectively done.

The School Board is a tough job. It needs to be an elected job so that voters have a measure of accountability that was missing with an appointed School Board, and led to a number of terrible decisions in Charlottesville (the “pairing” of Walker and Buford, the hiring of Scottie Griffin as superintendent). How to get good people to run for this job? I think School Board members themselves need to take an active role recruiting their successors. Michie, Wade, and Puryear haven’t done that. By running as a team they have effectively shut out the competition.

I think their move will weaken the authority of Superintendent Rosa Atkins just at the moment when she needs a great deal of community input and, ultimately, support to bring about the many changes, including possibly closing a school, called for by the recent efficiency review.

If anybody wants to run for Charlottesville City School Board—or better yet, three people who might consider running as a team—please give me a call. I’ m sure many folks in Charlottesville would love to see us avoid a Soviet-style election come November.

I haven’t followed this race at all, but if these three candidates wind up running unopposed, that certainly doesn’t wouldn’t support the notion that elected school boards would lead to vigorous competition and thus a better school board. Candidates should never go unopposed in a general election, I don’t care who they are.

20 thoughts on “School Board Candidates Running Unopposed”

  1. I’m pretty sure this is one reason why shifting to an elected school board was a bad idea.

  2. Just not true. Just look at some of the folks who managed to get appointed! (No reason at this late date to name names…) And what about the people who couldn’t get appointed because … well I don’t know why some good candidates couldn’t get appointed. (It was done behind closed doors.) 70% of the voters wanted an elected board, so this issue is moot. We just need candidates, especially those with the skills–financial,HR,etc.–that will make them effective overseers of a $60M budget. It’s a job that is well suited for community-minded folks (you don’t need to have children in the city schools) who may wish to raise their profile and make a contribution at the same time.

    It seems to me that the cost of running could be reduced considerably with a more collegial spirit among the candidates. EG One yard sign listing all the School Board candidates, the cost shared by all (and a website for more info). I made this suggestion to the three incumbents, but none of them were interested.

  3. Can someone explain to me how “running as a team” makes it impossible (or nearly so) for an individual candidate to get elected? Voters could choose to ignore their expressed enthusiasm for continuing to work together and could vote for two of the incumbents and a lone non-incumbent (if one were running), right? It’s not like there’s one button to push for all three, is it? Or is that the case–vote for one, and you automatically vote for all three?

    If this is not the case, this seems a little like nit-picking to me (and invoking Soviet-style elections seems over the top). No one else stepped up to run for School Board. Three incumbents who have presumably enjoyed working together and perhaps feel like they’re in a groove in regards to certain goals for the schools market themselves as an effective team rather than pretending they have no common goals and marketing themselves as lone individuals. Would it have been better to pretend that they didn’t know each other from Adam as they announce their candidacies?

    I’m even further confused by Karl’s follow-up post on this thread. He wants a more collegial spirit among the candidates — but if there are only three, they are the incumbents, and they’re running as a team, isn’t that already pretty collegial? Are there other candidates whose names you wanted on the yard sign along with Michie, Puryear, and Wade?

  4. elected school boards are great for city councilors who can now shrug their shoulders and say “what are you going to do?”, when faced with school problems.

  5. I agree with Cecil. How are the three incumbents preventing anyone else from running?

  6. Karl, why don’t you run? And I don’t mean that in an in-your-face or facetious way; you often have interesting and thoughtful posts about the school system. I’d vote for you!

  7. I no longer have children in the system. How are these 3 candidates doing ? If they are well thought of maybe there’s not enthusiasm to oppose them

  8. How about the ticket of Waldo, danpri & Shifflett (just pick one of 1000’s in the area).
    That would probably win!
    A nice mix openmindedness, bewildering comments & community outreach (in no particular order).

  9. Cecil & cville mom: let’s say you are are the lone candidate running, and your supporters vote for you and two of the three. But it’s not the same 2 others. But the team’s supporters just vote for the team. You will lose. The Democratic party has been winning city council elections (with rare exceptions) running slates for a long time.

    perlogik: The city council still writes the big check each year. That’s a lot of power.

    Pete: Thanks for the vote of confidence. I considered the school board a while back, but honestly it’s not the right job for me. (And folks, please understand that I have high regard for all three incumbents who are running; I just wish we had some competition so that the real issues facing the division would get discussed.

    My view is that the School Board, during much of my time with kids the city schools, hasn’t exercised its proper governance role. Too often it has been a rubber stamp for policies and directives. Our Central Office is too large because the School Board (not just this current Board) has allowed unchecked growth. It is only with the current Board that we’ve begun to have real conversation among School Board members in open meetings. I see this great new development largely the result of the work of Colette Blount and Kathy Galvin, the two leading vote getters in the last election.

    By the way, I think very highly of Dr. Atkins, too. And I think she would be even more effective with a Board that would take its governance role more seriously.

  10. It seems unfair to criticize the three school board members who are running for re election. Every voter is capable of choosing the three candidates they feel will do the best job. Isn’t that the whole point of having an elected school board?

  11. yeah, I don’t want to get into an online fight with Karl, who seems from what I’ve seen to be dedicated and fair about the city schools, but I just don’t get some of the language in his original letter. The reference to “Soviet-style elections,” as I said earlier, seems over the top. And it really seems that the problem is that no one other than the incumbents wants the job, but Karl’s letter is all about how the incumbents are limiting their opposition, making it impossible for others to run, not interested in Karl’s suggestions for a more “collegial” atmosphere, etc. And then there’s the question “how to get good people to run for this job” (not “more good people in addition to the incumbents”) and criticizing them for not looking to replace themeselves… the whole thing sounds like an attack on three people who are volunteering again to do a time-consuming job that no one else (including Karl) seems to want to do.

  12. I do not ever recall a time when the school board was appointed that there were only as many applicants as there were positions.

    In thinking about facing a job interview for the school board or facing an election for the school board, I can empathize with the lack of volunteers.

  13. With three people running as a team, advertising dollars can be shared. Also, each person knocking on doors will campaign for the others so that a much larger number of doors can be reached than can be done by a single person. It does not guarantee sure election, but I would hate to have to go up against that as a lone campaigner.
    Frankly, I think there’s not much opposition to the actions of the current school board so people are not motivated to run for change. That’s fine with me. I did have concerns when people who had issues with the school system could not air them effectively because council was pleased with the actions of its appointees and didn’t want the apple cart upset. I fully support electing school boards.

  14. I understand that the Charlottesville school community went through a dreadful time when the wrong person for the community became superintendent. It does not necessarily follow that the wrong person could not have been hired with an elected school board. Elected school boards vs appointed school boards have a lot of appeal-in theory. However, after many years of watching many school board elections in AC where candidates run unopposed, I am not convinced that reality and theory always mesh. You can end up with an essentially self appointed board with folks of varying qualifications.

  15. @Gail, “You can end up with an essentially self appointed board with folks of varying qualifications.” I don’t get your meaning.

  16. Well, with an appointed school board, there is an application process. If a person is running unopposed for a school board, all that is required is a willingness to do the job and whatever requirements are needed to qualify to run for office-folks who are neither vetted by a contested election or an application process may end up as school board members. That may work out very well for a community, or not, but it is not the ideal sought when communities switch from an appointed to an elected school board.

  17. Thanks. I agree.
    However, strange things can happen with appointed school boards, too. I seem to remember back in the 90’s when a school board vacancy came open. I think there were about six applicants. Council wasn’t satisfied with them so one of them called a friend and asked him to apply. Needless to say, that individual was appointed. Since several of the applicants who were not chosen had appeared to be fine candidates and were very active in the community and the successful recruit was not, this process left the community wondering exactly what qualities was Council looking for. I prefer the electorate err rather than council.

  18. It was a very good idea to switch from appointing to electing school board members. There will undoubtedly be cycles where fewer people run, and this year is one of them. It does not follow that we are a totalitarian state because more citizens don’t jump into this race, or city council, or planning commission, etc. It may in fact be that this shaky economy changes our short term outlook, concerning us more with our job security and our family’s well being. Spending hundreds of precious hours volunteering on the school board may not be so glamorous this year, and we should marvel at those residents who sacrifice their time to improve our
    children’s education.

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