So long as they’re elected

At a meeting in which the issue of a reduced city School Board was presented, as slated, by board Chairwoman Allyson Pate, two council members also injected the notion of an elected School Board into the conversation. Why not do so? That issue, as well as that of a schools panel with fewer members, has been pregnant for some time.

Thus, we are pleased that councilors Corey Sullivan (“The overwhelming majority of [school] boards [in Virginia] are elected; if we’re going to make a change, let’s make a change”) and Les Veach (“I’m inquisitive about seeing elected [board members] also”) expanded the discussion about School Board change.

But there appears to be little consensus on the joining of the two changes, as council is all over the place on the dual issue. To wit (in addition to Messrs. Sullivan and Veach’s previously noted comments on an elected board:

— Vice Mayor John Hill opposes an elected board and feels similarly about a board with reduced numbers, but is open to listening to his constituents’ opinions on the latter matter.

— Councilor Bill Wiley prefers the appointment process because he says it assures the best folks are chosen to serve. (Does Mr. Wiley believe the citizenry is incapable of performing this task as well as council?)

— Councilor John Willingham is adamant about reducing the membership of the nine-member School Board — and not just to seven, but to five. In fact, he says the same applies to council. “At some point,” he said, “I’m going to initiate a request to review our board structure.” His reasoning: A city of 28,000 does not require a nine-member council or a nine- or seven-member School Board for proper governance.

— Mr. Sullivan — He can live with a seven-member School Board as long as it’s elected, but not if it is appointed.

— Mayor David Smith — He reminded council the question at hand was board size, not whether it should be elected or appointed. For the record, he favors a reduced School Board.

The upshot of the meeting? Council voted 5-3 to forward the School Board’s reduction request to its next business meeting. And the debate goes on.

Oddly enough, if council were of equal voice — that is, affirmative — on the twin issues, changing from an appointed to elected School Board involves a less torturous process. It can be done either via voter referendum — meaning, as Mr. Sullivan says, that it could happen without council doing a thing — or by order of council. Reducing the membership of the School Board, on the other hand, requires a charter change that must be approved by both council and the General Assembly.

We’re not of a mind to initially choose a path of least resistance, but we do consider an elected School Board more important in terms of democratic involvement than we do the number of people on the board. We do agree, though, with Mr. Willingham that nine is too many for a city our size, but whether the number of School Board members, for some reason, stays at nine or is trimmed to seven or (preferably) even five (one representative per ward, plus an at-large chairman), the board should be elected.

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