Friday, May 19, 2006

Task forces studies how to elect school board

School Board Election Task Force May 18, 2006

In photo task force members:
Charles “Buddy” Weber, Republican
Loren Intolubbe, League of Women Voters
Leroy Hamlett, Former electoral board chair
Lloyd Snook, Chair, Democrat
Rauzelle Smith, Vice Chair, Former school board chair
Karen Waters, Quality Community Council
Tom Vandever, Former mayor
Ken Stroupe, Center for Politics

Charlottesville, Va.-- Following last November’s referendum to switch from an appointed to elected school board, Charlottesville is now studying whether the system of representation will be at-large or district-based or a combination.

Previously, the City Council appointed 4 members by ward and 3 at-large to the 7-member school board. But the wards have not been election districts since the 1920s when another referendum changed to the current 5 at-large member Council.

The wards stopped being election districts when all city elections became at-large. Now it seems, the Council preserved the tradition of mixed ward representation under the appointment system. Even when the wards were divided into precincts, the precincts were not election districts because no one is elected from a precinct. So the present day ward configuration is a relic of history dating back to the 1920s and the precincts back to the 1960s.

At tonight’s forum, the city’s new School Board Election Study Task Force hosted a forum in City Council chambers. Charles Weber began with a PowerPoint Presentation available at the city’s website. Six people spoke and a few questions were called in. There will be another forum on May 30 and 31 at the middle schools.

Newly elected to the school board coming in 2nd, Leah Puryear said she favors an at-large school board.

Sue Lewis, who came in 4th for the 3 school board seats filled in May, the city’s first school board election and last election in the spring time. Lewis said she liked the non-partisan nature of the election. Each school board candidate must get 125 signatures to be on the ballot.

David Repass said he strongly favors the 7-ward neighborhood model.

Blair Hawkins wondered why a ward is not an election district. Because no one has been elected by ward for over 80 years and never by precinct.

Joseph Bishop spoke in favor of the 7-ward system.

City Councilor Kevin Lynch spoke in favor of a completely at-large school board. Since his first election in 2000, Lynch has appointed school board members by ward and at-large. He said he fails to see how ward or at-large would or could actually fix any of the problems in the schools.

Let me try to explain. An at-large system is a one-party system. 51% of the voters select all the representatives. What if Congress were at-large? We’d have 535 Republican Senators and Representatives because the nation is majority Republican. Charlottesville is a one-party town because of the at-large system.

If you’re one of those 51%, you don’t see a problem. The ward system is an attempt to give representation to minority voices, the other 49% who can make quite a fuss. If everybody on the school board agrees on everything, what’s the point of having a board at all? How can there be compromise when all the representatives already represent the majority?

The ward system hopes to address the problems in the schools with new ideas that come from people outside the 51% who created the problems. Geographic diversity is a hopeful first step to intellectual diversity. The diversity a ward system seeks is political diversity.

Proposed 4 Wards

7 Wards

Present Ward-Precinct Layout


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