WINCHESTER — City Council is moving forward with a plan for transitioning from an appointed Winchester School Board to one that is elected by citizens.
It remains to be seen if the elected board will have nine or seven members. In July, council approved the School Board’s request to reduce its size by two members, but the General Assembly has to endorse the change because it requires a revision to the city’s charter.
Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick, introduced House Bill 1734 on Feb. 5, which would formalize the reduction in the board’s size. However, it may be July until the bill reaches the governor’s office, and anyone who wants to run for a School Board seat has to file with the Winchester Voter Registrar’s Office by June 9.
Council is covering its bases by proposing two election schedules, one for a seven-member School Board and the other for a nine-member panel.
If the House of Delegates, state Senate and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approve Collins’ bill, the School Board would include one member from each of Winchester’s four wards, plus three at-large members. If the bill is denied, the board would continue to be comprised of five at-large members, plus one member from each ward.
In both scenarios, board members would be elected to four-year terms.
City officials have expressed confidence the bill will be approved by the General Assembly. If it is, the two at-large seats held by board Chairwoman Allyson Pate and member Richard Bell would be eliminated once their terms expire on June 30. Vice Chairwoman Marie Imoh, whose second four-year term is set to expire later this year, would have her term extended to Dec. 31.
Four of the seven seats would be up for grabs in the Nov. 3 general election: Imoh’s at-large seat, the currently vacant Ward 2 seat, and two other ward seats randomly selected by the Winchester Electoral Board.
Aside from Imoh, Pate and Bell, any current School Board member whose term will not expire this year will automatically have their terms extended to Dec. 31, 2022. The general election on Nov. 8, 2022, would include the ward seat not selected in the Electoral Board’s random drawing, as well as the remaining two at-large seats.
If the General Assembly decides to keep nine members on the School Board, the at-large seats held by Pate, Bell and Imoh, as well as the vacant Ward 2 seat and a second ward seat chosen by an Electoral Board drawing, will be on this November’s ballot. Anyone not up for election this year would have his or her term extended to Dec. 31, 2022, and their seats would be included in the 2022 election.
“I’m trying to make this as seamless as possible,” City Attorney Melisa G. Michelson said, noting the proposed election schedule was developed in cooperation with Winchester Public Schools.
Council voted 7-0-1 to forward Michelson’s proposal to its next meeting for formal action. Councilor Judy McKiernan, an employee of Winchester Public Schools, abstained from the vote due to a potential conflict of interest, and Councilor Les Veach was not in attendance.
Traditionally, City Council has appointed people to serve on the School Board. That changed in November when nearly 64% of Winchester voters chose to switch to an elected board.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session at Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors John Willingham, Kim Herbstritt, Judy McKiernan, Bill Wiley and Corey Sullivan. Councilor Les Veach was absent.