WINCHESTER — As City Council prepares to vote on a proposal to reduce the Winchester School Board’s size from nine to seven members, organizers of a petition effort to switch from an appointed board to one that is elected say they have enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November.
“We’re over 2,000,” said Dani Bostick, a parent and teacher at Handley High School who is one of more than a half-dozen people who have been collecting signatures from city voters for three months.
Bostick has said an elected school board, such as those in neighboring Frederick and Clarke counties, is more accountable to citizens than one whose members are appointed by a governing body. Winchester School Board members are appointed by City Council.
Bostick has been at odds with the Winchester School Board for more than a year. She claims board members and school system administrators violated federal Title IX regulations by not doing enough to shield her teenage daughter from a fellow Handley student who sexually assaulted her at a park in 2017.
Ward 3 resident Roya Milotte filed paperwork in the Winchester Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on April 5 to petition for the referendum. At the time, Milotte told The Star she was troubled by the school system’s treatment of Bostick’s daughter, and her ward had not had a board representative since December 2017.
The School Board’s Ward 3 vacancy wasn’t filled until June 25, when City Council appointed Elyus Wallace to the position.
To get a referendum on the ballot, petition organizers have until July 17 to collect signatures from at least 10% of the people who were registered to vote in Winchester as of Jan. 1. Bostick said that totaled 1,667 signatures.
Even though they have received more than 300 signatures above the required amount, Bostick said on Wednesday the petition is still being circulated throughout Winchester.
“We want to make sure we have enough signatures to account for people who may have been confused about where they are registered,” Bostick said.
She and Milotte plan to submit the signatures to Winchester Voter Registrar Elizabeth Martin by Monday afternoon. Each signature will have to be verified before a final total is determined, and if enough signatures are accepted, Winchester voters will be asked during the general election on Nov. 5 if they want to switch to an elected board.
If voters approve the measure, board members would serve four years and be limited to two consecutive terms. The first board election would most likely be held in November 2020, and current members would have the option of running for their seats on a non-partisan basis.
It has not been determined if every seat would come up for election at the same time. It is also unknown if board members, who currently serve without pay, would be compensated for their service.
Another question is how many board seats would be available should Winchester transition to an elected board. City Council on Tuesday held a first reading of a board request to reduce the nine-member board’s size by two seats and is scheduled to vote on the issue at its next meeting on July 23.
If approved, the board seats currently held by Chairwoman Allyson Pate and Ward 1 representative Richard Bell would not be filled after their second and final four-year terms expire on June 30.
City Manager Eden Freeman said Tuesday that council will “most likely” follow through with its vote on the proposed size reduction regardless of a possible voter referendum.