Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chairman Has Strong Feeling on Elected School Board

Roanoke City School Board

Roanoke City School Board

An official in Roanoke City is bantering about the idea of switching to an elected school board rather than an appointed school board. The official would not go on record but cited financial accountability as the lead factor in considering an elected school board for Roanoke City. That led me to ask Chairman Carson how he felt about the possibility.

At first blush citizens might think that democracy commands a ballot box on such important positions. Not so in every case says Roanoke City School Board Chairman, David Carson who receives about a $160 stipend each month.

Carson’s strong feelings:

“It is so essential that the school board represent the whole district,” said Carson. They need not to have biases or an axe to grind. Most particularly in a struggling district like Roanoke City that needs to make broad reaching decisions without being beholding to any one group.

Roanoke County on the other hand does not have the massive issues, as does Roanoke City. In the case of the County’s quadrant elected school board Carson said his cohorts have to do some horse-trading to keep the people that elected them pacified.

Carson views school board membership as volunteer service saying, “if you are going to run for the school board its going to cost you money … there should not be a means test.”

Roanoke County’s elected school board members receive $17,000 a year and the chairman receives $20,000. Running a campaign does not come cheap. The City of Roanoke would have to pony up at least as much as the County pays its school board members. Carson believes that serving on the school board should not be a “money making proposition… what kind of people would that attract?”

Carson asks of those that complain saying that the City should have an elected school board, “what is it that the school board isn’t doing that you think we should?” If it is a single issue then you’re going to then get a one-issue candidate. He concluded that then there would be one member whose only reason for being on the school board was to effect one particular issue. They would not be willing to make decisions for the good of the whole system.

“I feel very strongly about it … how many decisions have we flip-flopped on,” asked Carson. Carson commended school board member May Huff on her Forest Park vote saying she was able to step back and look at what was best for the whole system. If Huff had represented the Northwest district only “she would have had to have voted no.”

In a place like Roanoke you desperately need a good cross-section of people who represent the whole city and don’t represent one particular school or neighborhood explained Carson.

For localities like Bedford, Salem, Roanoke County, and Montgomery County where there is a lot of homogeneity among the citizens it may be OK. But a place like Roanoke City where there are hard decisions to be made, Carson thinks that an appointed school board “is absolutely the best way.”

Carson learned from Cleveland Ohio’s experience:

At a National School Board meeting the Cleveland School Board explained why they had reverted back from an elected school board to an appointed school board. Carson said that they found their school district was absolutely “going down the tank.” They had single-issue people wanting to get on the school board. Cleveland ended up with school board members that were beholden to the interests that got them elected. For that reason Cleveland reverted back to an appointed school board.

Cleveland’s appointments follow an even more stringent process then Roanoke. An independent group is appointed by city council to prescreen applicants before recommendation to the city. They ensure a cross-section of the city by diversity of race, area, expertise, experience, age, professions, etc. Those recommended are then chosen from the group by City Council.

Looking at Virginia’s history:

Virginia had been the only state that did not allow for elected local school boards until 1992. Since that time, 102 of the 134 local school divisions in Virginia have changed or begun the process of changing from an appointed school board to an elected one and more than 60 percent of Virginia’s current school board members are elected officials. (This is the latest data I was able to find.)

In each of these localities, supporters of elections collected the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters, and had a simple referendum question included on the general election ballot:

Shall the method of selecting the school board be changed from appointment… to direct election by the voters? YES or NO

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Education, Roanoke City Politics, Roanoke City Public Schools

Tags: , ,

Comments (1)

The Pamphleteer

August 21st, 2009 at 2:37 PM    

Expanding democracy
and an elected School Board
sounds like A Good Idea
to me.

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