Past time for an elected school board, Norfolk

The Virginian-Pilot had a story Saturday about the possibility of an elected school board in Norfolk. Seems some folks have seen the light.

Because of what they call a recent series of negative revelations about the public schools, three City Council members say they favor an elected school board.

I’ve long advocated for an elected school board (see list below). That Norfolk doesn’t have one is a testament to the power that the Council wants to maintain. With power, though, comes responsibility, and now that the school system has gotten some bad press, the Council would like to distance itself from the stench.

Although I disagree, I have to give Ward 2 councilwoman Theresa Whibley her props for sticking to what she believes: she prefers that the school board be appointed.

“The data does not support the notion that elected school boards are better than appointed school boards,” she said.

It may not – but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. We’ve tried appointed – time to give elected school boards a shot.

Previous posts:
Norfolk school board nominees
Edds on school boards
Elect Norfolk School Board? Oh, yeah!
Reason #9,859,743,201 why Norfolk should elect school board


10 thoughts on “Past time for an elected school board, Norfolk

  1. I think you hit the nail with the comment about City Council distancing itself. They appointed these people, who I believe are good and valuable citizens, but it is the council’s responsibility for all the recent failures we have seen in the city. This May is our opportunity to let them know how we feel.

    I believe that if you give responsibility to an elected official, you must give authority. The Dillion rule precludes that in Virginia, from my understanding. An elected school board should be able to raise the money it needs to accomplish the goals it sets, without that it becomes, IMHO, an elected advisory body. Not a good thing.

    Elected school boards are great for consultants and people like us who like to watch the process, but I don’t think an elected board, without taxing authority, would be any better than an appointed board. What we, as citizens, must do it make sure we have the Council who listens to the needs of the citizenry, not the needs of the contributors, lobbyists, or to their own best interests.

    We need statesmen on Council, none exist at this point on that body. Let’s try that before we unleash an mass of political ads on us.

    1. Read the Margaret Edds article that’s in the second linked post above. She calls appointed school boards “more centralized, less democratic control” and says that elected school boards are about “concentrating power in the hands of a few.” I agree wholeheartedly with her.

      As I said then:

      I understand the argument about the lack of taxing authority, making the School Board reliant upon council for funding. But anything that increases the power of the citizenry just makes sense to me.

      Getting Council to be more responsive to citizens is a laudable goal – but it isn’t happening. We’ve tried it that way and it hasn’t worked. Time to try something else.

      1. thanks for pointing me there. Good post. But I think we will continue to disagree, unless someone can point to a situation where the elected authority improved the situation elsewhere.

        Don’t want to see another group of people, elected, who don’t listen to citizens, right now.

        Maybe I am jaded.

        1. Are you aware that 96% of the school boards in VA are elected? Norfolk is just late to the party.

          I’m pretty jaded myself – which is why I want to take some of the power away from Council and put it in the hands of the voters. That’s democracy, not a so-called meritocracy, which is what we have now.

  2. We already have way too many elections in Virginia.

    One of the primary reasons for voter apathy is that the electioneering process never stops. England, for instance, has a period of a few weeks for parliamentary elections. Everybody gets caught up in paying attention and then voting. Here, because electioneering is almost continuous, no one other than the committed political junkie can stand to pay attention.

    Elected school boards will make matters worse.

    1. 96% of Virginia has elected school boards. I read somewhere that Norfolk is the largest city in the country to not have one. It doesn’t add to the elections calendar as the school board elections take place at the same time as the other municipal elections.

      Yes, elections are continuous in Virginia – thanks to the Byrd machine. Voter fatigue, voter apathy are all a part of Byrd’s grand plan, that Virginia continues to this day.

      If you want to change that, the answer is not to ignore the process, but to get involved to help change it.

  3. What is needed is not more elected officials but more empowered participation by citizens. For instance, several Brazilian cities have “participatory budgeting” in which thousands of citizens help determine the city budgets each year.

    Or, how about public financing of elections so that we decrease the influence of the special interests (particularly those with the most money who now tend to control things)?

    Electing more officials just increases the number of folks that the ordinary citizen has to keep track of without providing any additional empowerment to the citizen. At best, electing more “leaders” is a band aid and at worst will make citizen apathy more severe.

    We need more fundamental reforms.

  4. The fact that 96% of Virginia’s school boards are elected would be more persuasive if there was any evidence showing those school boards did a better job than appointed school boards.
    As for giving more power to citizens, since school boards themselves have no real power, other than to make suggestions, electing them doesn’t really empower citizens.
    It’s just another election that people have to spend money on.
    We already elect too many people in Virginia who should be HIRED for competence –clerk of the court, commonwealths attorney, sheriff — or whose positions should be eliminated — commissioner of revenue, treasurer.
    I can’t see why we need another meaningless election.

    1. let’s start with the commissioner of the revenue and treasurer. The constitution already allows localities to get rid of those offices.

      If that works we can work on changing the constitution of the commonwealth for the other offices.

  5. I find all this talk that now we need an elected school board a little funny. Several times in the last twenty years, I was a part of a group that tried to get an elected school board in Norfolk. The citizens were not interested because they were content with the status quo.

    I believe it won’t matter one way or the other if the fundamental element the citizens are not interested and participating in what goes on in the schools. Until they become active listeners and involved, what difference does it make who leads them? The minority of the voters are already making decisions for the majority because it is to inconvenient to do differently.

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