Norfolk City Council held two public hearings in December on what form the elected school board should take. I attended both meetings but did not speak because I’ve made my opinion known. It became clear to me that there is a real need for the system we adopt to contain some elements of both, perhaps something like Virginia Beach has. (Virginia Beach elects at large but has residency requirements for the candidates for most of the seats.) The only proposal that was offered by anyone on council was that by Tommy Smigiel, which is a hybrid model.
A hybrid system requires a change to the Norfolk charter. Electing school board members either at-large or wards does not. A charter change requires General Assembly approval. It also would require another public hearing 10 days before it was to be voted on. All of this needed to take place in a rather short window, with the General Assembly opening next week.
Norfolk City Council took up the issue in its work session on December 16, as shown in the video below. The discussion took about 52 minutes.
Bottom line: council has delayed the decision on how the school board will be elected. That means there is little chance* for a hybrid system, even though council will consider it at its next meeting on January 13.
It didn’t have to be this way. If our council members were leaders, they would have started this conversation a long time ago, as soon as the signatures were certified. Let’s be honest: a referendum on elected school boards has never failed in Virginia. No doubt that’s why they had that legal memo prepared last August. Had the conversation started then, we could have worked out some of these kinks and the public could have been better informed. (For that matter, after listening to the discussion, it seems the members of council could have been better informed!)
* – I said “little chance” because even though the pre-filing period for legislation ends at 10am next Wednesday, legislators can introduce legislation after that time with the consent of all of the members of the given body. But this is a short session – scheduled to end 2/28 – and time to get this done is running out. If the decision were put off until the next legislative session, it would be really, really hard to have things in place for May 2016 elections. However, it is doable.