Thursday, May 04, 2006

Democrats regain monopoly in Charlottesville: School Board weak on safety

On Tuesday Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro won their first elected offices beating out Rob Schilling, who sought re-election as the only Republican on City Council. It was the last spring election, which moves to November in ’07.

Wednesday afternoon on WINA’s Charlottesville Right Now, the councilors-elect gave a glimpse of their first term in response to two questions from callers.

Meadowcreek Parkway is a low priority. Besides, the project scheduled to begin in ‘08 could be delayed again due to state budget uncertainties. The eastern and southern connectors are more urgently needed.

And the public has spoken: there’s no mandate for a ward system.

Norris received 3,945 votes, 66% of 26% who turned out, and 17% of registered voters.

Taliaferro 3,742, 62%, 16%.

Schilling 2,460, 41%, 11%. He picked up 291 votes since ’02. The NAACP and The Tribune, Charlottesville’s African-American newspaper since 1954, endorsed Schilling.

In comparison, top vote-getter in ’04 Kendra Hamilton received 3,465 with 65% of the 27% turnout and Blake Caravati 2,528 in ’02 with 58% of the 22%.

Also on Tuesday voters chose from among 6 candidates 3 school board members for the first time. They join 4 members who were appointed by the City Council.

Because of a referendum last November, the board is transitioning from appointed to elected form of selection. The remaining 4 seats are up for election November ‘07.

Under the old system, Council appointed 4 members by ward and 3 at-large. At the public hearing November 21, city attorney Craig Brown made the claim that technically Council has always appointed school board members at-large since the wards are not election districts.

Apparently Council has been discriminating based on geography within the city. If Council and the public does nothing further, all 7 members will be elected at-large.

The 4 wards were each divided into 2 precincts following the 1963 annexation of Barracks Road Shopping Center, which opened in 1959. The city began moving away from ward representation when a 1920 referendum approved a switch from the bicameral, 12-member, mixed ward Council to the current 5 at-large member Council.

On Tuesday the school board candidates most in denial of the school safety issue were elected.

(High, Kollmansperger, Puryear, moderator, Michie, Wade, Lewis)

Ned Michie received 3,099 votes, 52% of the turnout. He was the only incumbent and was appointed by the City Council.

In a letter to The Daily Progress (“City has school discipline strategy” co-signed by Peggy Van Yahres. April 18, 2006) Michie minimized the safety concerns by saying violence is actually down 13% compared with the previous two years. He didn’t give the actual numbers or the actual offenses.

He said the discipline strategy is to deal with problems in a “fair and equitable” way. The punishment for an offense depends on your social equity.

A week later, at the League of Women Voters forum April 25, Michie alluded to the racial nature of the school violence. In recent years there’s been a rise in gang activity in the community and reflected in the schools, he said.

There are no white gangs in Charlottesville. The integrated gangs are 90% black. Gang is code for black.

During his campaign, Michie never described a single incidence of violence that has the public so concerned. The conclusion for the public to draw is that either Michie doesn’t know what’s going on in the schools or he doesn’t want us to know.

Ned Michie is related to Thomas Michie, Charlottesville mayor in 1960 and the most visible advocate for the urban renewal of Vinegar Hill. At Clark School on election day, Ned Michie had a poster listing a few of his supporters, including Mitch Van Yahres and Francis Fife, unequivocal symbols of urban renewal.

Leah Puryear came in second with 2,425 votes, 40% of the turnout. Juandiego Wade was third with 2,368 votes. These two African-Americans paired themselves early as a ticket.

In response to questions about the violence on April 25, Puryear repeated the mantra that all students can learn and all rules should be applied equally.

As director of Upward Bound since 1980, she also minimized the safety concerns by pointing out the difference between referrals for discipline and referrals for violence. Puryear offers unequal application of the rules as justification for violence.

Wade condoned the violence to a further degree. He said some black students feel picked on because white students can roam the halls while black students are asked to show a hall pass. Again, inequitable treatment may, in the heat of the moment, justify a violent assault.

Sue Lewis was fourth with 2,076 votes, 35%. As to the nature of the school violence, Lewis candidly responded that she simply didn’t know. She’s not in the loop. What happens in the schools seems to be a closely guarded secret.

Charlie Kollmansperger 1,693 votes, 28%. Vance High 759 (42 more than his ’04 independent bid for city council), 13%.

These two candidates were the most informed and informative with recent experience as teachers in the city schools. They didn’t seem to be repeating slogans and sound bites.

High remembered when a student pulled a knife on the principal at Buford Middle School. The violence at Charlottesville High School includes vandalism and keying of cars, reported High.

He said current principal Tim Flynn told him that 100 to 150 problem students at Buford will continue to be problems right on through high school. During a visit to Buford as a school board candidate, High said a student approached him and asked if he would make the school safer if elected.

This year, the school board approved $70,000 to install surveillance cameras in the high school. An anonymous donor will pay for the cameras in Buford. The school board promised no cameras in the bathrooms, the most unsafe place in the school.

At the forum April 25, Karen Waters of the Quality Community Council and school board applicant last year, dismissed the safety concerns as “the current obsession with violence.” That’s like saying the railroad is obsessed with accidents because they have a safety program to remind people how to avoid accidents.

Waters seems to know the violence has been going on for a long time. The latest outrage over the lack of school safety is just latest “current obsession with violence.”

How to move forward

A possible next step in addressing the violence would be for the new Superintendent Rosa Atkins to give a report to City Council and demonstrate to the public that she even knows what’s going on. She should clearly denounce the violence and address the excuses students and leaders are using to justify the unacceptable behavior.

Just as Arab leaders should denounce terrorism, so should our black leaders denounce violence.

The report from the task force on violence will be another opportunity for the schools to earn trust and respect.

"Eminent domain dominates Charlottesville Council race:Schilling & Weber on May 2" April 25, 2006.

"Race Violence in our Schools?" April 10, 2006.

Blair's Blog


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