My latest op-ed, entitled “Big question on Norfolk’s Nov. 4 ballot,” appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. I think the title above is better 😉 The question, the very last item on the ballot next Tuesday, is a simple one:
Shall the method for selecting the school board be changed from appointment by the governing body to direct election by the voters?
The answer for me is an easy one. Nevertheless, I’ve been open to hear the what the opponents have to say. Last week, I moderated a forum on the question. Moderation, by the way, means that I didn’t offer my opinion nor steer the conversation towards my own opinion. My job was to be sure to have all sides heard. I believe I accomplished that goal.
One of the questions that kept popping up from the audience was what would the school board look like if the initiative next week fails. How do we cure the ills of an appointed school board? The question never got an answer.
It’s worth noting that one of the panelists accused me afterwards of not doing my homework; these things, once on the ballot, he said, never fail. I knew that. But what good does it do to hold a forum to inform about the pros and cons prior to the vote if the vote is assumed to be a foregone conclusion? I don’t believe that serves the voters – they need to understand what they are voting for, and not just vote “yes” because the schools so low performing. From my column:
I have no illusions that an elected School Board will magically increase Norfolk students’ test scores. The research on student performance under appointed versus elected school boards is decidedly mixed. Norfolk’s public schools didn’t begin to falter overnight, and I don’t expect them to improve overnight. But our schools are going in the wrong direction.
In 2005, Norfolk Public Schools won the national Broad Prize for Urban Education. In the press release announcing it, the Broad Foundation wrote, “Norfolk’s success can be attributed to the district’s strong leadership, and the solid partnership with the school board, unions, and community. It is clear that they have made education a priority for all students, and that commitment is evident in their academic results.”
These days, Norfolk’s public schools are counted among the worst in the state. That is an indictment not just of the School Board, but of all of us.
We can do better. We must do better.
Remember, that Broad Prize was won under an appointed school board. And pay particular attention to what the Broad Foundation had to say.
Norfolk’s schools will get better if education is a priority for all of us. An elected school board may help us get there.
The other thing for me is that we will finally put to bed the vestiges of Virginia’s 1902 constitution, which continues to haunt us here in Norfolk in more ways than I care to count. A good primer on the effect of that constitution on elected school boards can be found here.
Vote Yes, Norfolk.
My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot nor am I paid for my contributions to the paper.Follow @vpaige