Education Editorial: Elected School Boards

In 2011 Delegate Albo of Fairfax said, "If I had one vote in my 18 years to take back, it would be elected school boards, because they just don't work."

The Friends of Hanover Schools recently voiced, and then reconsidered, an effort to move Hanover County to a referendum on elected school boards. In 1994, Hanover took a vote and became one of two localities of 115 that had initiated referenda to reject the idea. In 1992, Virginia became the last state in the Union to permit elected school boards by voting to amend its Constitution.

The central idea in the elected process is that more democracy is better. Much has been written about what happened historically with appointed school boards, but little has been said about whether or not public policy would have been different if the process for selecting board members had not changed. As a superintendent, I always stated that I didn't get involved in how the people for whom I worked were chosen; however, it does not make me naive to their unique qualities.

Virginia school boards are constitutional entities that are fiscally dependent on the local governing body for funds. They have no taxing authority. If one board can raise money and another uses most of it, a natural conflict emerges. If funds are not available, school boards can simply put the blame on the "other guy." In like terms, the governing board can divert blame for any decision where opposition is felt to be in their best interest.

Democracy is fundamental, but its application should not be without discretion. Is voting more often simply a proxy for trying to get it right? Maybe the real issue is not controlling the ballot box, it's cooperation.

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