Hampton Roads / Local / Norfolk / Politics

Norfolk GAINS candidates forum

I attended the candidates forum hosted by Norfolk GAINS last night. A report of the event from Virginian-Pilot educational reporter Steven Vegh is here. The forum, like the group, focused on our public schools.

Perhaps the very best part of the forum was the questions themselves. Rare is the case when I attend candidate forums that the questions are so complete and so thoughtful. The seven questions, which were not provided to the candidates beforehand, fell into three broad categories:

  • Role of NPS in the City’s short and long term development strategy
  • Strategy for fulling funding NPS
  • Relationship between City Council and School Board

Unfortunately, the questions were far better than most of the answers. By and large, the candidates provided answers that weren’t answers at all, but rather campaign talking points. I could scarcely believe what I was hearing when a question about a dedicated funding stream for the schools was asked. It seemed to me as if most of them had no idea what a “dedicated funding stream” meant. Have they not read the newspaper’s articles about what the fight between the Virginia Beach City Council and School Board is about?

The best answers to the questions came from Jesse Scaccia, which, given his background, is to be expected. Scaccia stood to offer his opening statement, an annoying move that was copied by most of the candidates at various points during the evening.

None of the candidates pointed out what, to me, was an obvious point: that while the council’s role is to provide funding for the schools, the actually running of them is properly left to the school board. None of the candidates addressed the type of school board member they would like to see appointed; after all, until the question of elected school boards is put on the ballot, Norfolk will continue to have an appointed board. Far too many of the answers delved into the operations of the schools, which is outside of the role of council.

I expected incumbent members Barclay Winn and Angelia Williams to make this point, but neither did. Winn was definitely off his game last night, appearing tired. If one of the values of incumbency is a better understanding of how things work, neither of them demonstrated that in-depth knowledge. I expected more from Winn, not so much from Williams.

Kudos to Norfolk GAINS for offering the citizens of Norfolk an opportunity to hear from the candidates on the important issue of our schools.

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