Friends of Hanover Schools group drops move to elected school board

Posted on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 10:28 am

The Friends of Hanover Schools is trying to figure out what exactly it wants to be and how it wants to tackle education issues in the county.

The advocacy group emerged during this winter’s budget process. The schools have had to cut nearly $35 million in expenditures from fiscal years 2009 through 2014 in response to the economic recession, rising costs, and declining enrollment. The group feels some of these cuts are damaging the public school system.

FOHS members gathered at the Ashland Firehouse Theater April 17 to discuss future goals.

They debated the possibility of advocating for an elected school board. Opinions were mixed, and several pros and cons were weighed before FOHS decided not to pursue the idea at this time.

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors appoints School Board members, one per magisterial district.

Switching to an elected school board would require a voter referendum. State law requires a minimum of 10 percent of registered voters to sign a petition before the issue can be placed on the ballot.

Hanover voted on this question in 1994. Hanoverians rejected the notion of an elected school board by a vote of 16,477 to 11,119, as reported in the Herald-Progress at the time.

“We have some very motivated school board members who have the best interest of the schools at heart,” said Chris Pace, a member of the FOHS leadership team.

“My fear is they’re not going to be retained for political reasons, and that’s something I don’t want to see happen,” he continued.

Michelle Schmitt, also part of the leadership team, said she would like to see the group function as a watchdog.

“I would rather watch seven supervisors than seven supervisors and seven elected school board members, and as a new organization, I don’t want to see us bite off more than we can chew,” she said.

John Szewczyk, a retired Patrick Henry High School teacher, said he has worked with both elected and appointed school boards through his current position with Virginia Professional Educators. He emphasized that VPE takes no position on whether school boards should be elected, and he was speaking solely his personal opinions.

“We’re all assuming if we have an elected school board in Hanover that the seven members are all going to be pro public education. That’s not necessarily true. We may end up electing people who are anti public education, and what do we do then? I don’t think this is the right time to raise the issue,” he said.

Members noted the high expenses involved in running campaigns and feared that might deter otherwise qualified candidates.

FOHS has organized as a political action committee with the goal of supporting board of supervisors candidates who would positively influence school-related decisions. All seven supervisors seats are up for election in 2015.

FOHS plans on meeting monthly. For more information, visit their website at friendsofhanoverschools.com.

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