Editorial: Pros and cons of an elected school board

Posted on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

There’s a possibility that Hanover voters could decide this fall whether the county will join the majority of localities in Virginia that have an elected School Board.

The basis for similar action in other counties has been something like this: The School Board’s budget is the biggest, so voters should decide who’s in charge of spending those dollars.

However, the arguments for and against changing from an appointed to an elected School Board are more complex.

Pros:

• Hanover voters would decide who’s in office and who deserves to stay there. This is a basic tenet of democracy on which our country’s entire election system teeters. If someone’s not representing your interests, you should have the right to vote against them at the polls. This is true for any office.

• The Hanover Board of Supervisors would not control who sits on the School Board, thereby eliminating that board’s direct influence over School Board business. While the board of supervisors does not vote directly on school matters, it’s hard to believe that they do not exert some degree of influence over their appointees. This would not be the case if voters opted for an elected School Board.

Cons:

• If it isn’t already, the School Board election process would become politicized. As with any elected office, those with the means to fund campaigns and get their message out to voters have a clear advantage over those who lack such resources. In addition, elected School Board members would have to divide accountability between voters and the classroom. Special interest causes could also wedge their way into School Board elections.

• The Board of Supervisors would still have taxing authority and the final say over spending matters. At the end of the day, the School Board has to ask the Board of Supervisors for money to fund operations and capital improvements. This wouldn’t change under an elected School Board system.

• Hanover schools currently perform at a high level, thanks, no doubt, to those who guide the school system. While it’s possible that those currently in office could win in a general election, it’s also possible that the school system would lose years of combined experience among its current School Board.

These are only a few of the possible pros and cons related to changing from an appointed to an elected school board and we hope that local voters will give the issue some much-needed thought if a referendum does go forward. It did, after all, fail the first time around in the early 1990s.

We will leave you with some food for thought. Last fall, a referendum in Richmond County to switch from a court-appointed School Board (a rarity in Virginia) to an elected board failed on a rather wide margin. Those behind the referendum were the same group that opposed construction of a desperately needed new school and fought tooth and nail to make sure the project never left the confines of a blueprint. The group also disseminated propaganda attacking the school system without basis and stirring up discontent.

In Richmond County, the measure failed because voters knew that those behind the effort were not acting in the best interest of local education. Here, those proposing the measure want to see the schools continue to thrive.

 

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