August 9, 2005
Come election time in November, voters will have the opportunity to decide if Charlottesville's school board should continue to be appointed by City Council or elected by the public.
The Virginia State Code requires voters in Charlottesville to sign the Petition of Qualified Voters for Referendum in order to get it on the ballot.
Members of the community have worked diligently over the past six weeks to gather signatures, and now voters will be able to decide.
The General Assembly of Virginia enacted legislation in 1992 giving local school divisions the option of transitioning to elected school boards, and since then localities across the state have started to do.
Charlottesville might be next in line. "I think right now we have more of a caretaker school board," says City Councilor Rob Schilling. "People are appointed, not really on a platform, but more or less on personal relationships and the few things they say at a forum."
Issues of direct accountability and diversity are at the forefront of the referendum debate.
While officials like Schilling feel an elected school board will ensure more direct accountability, local School Board Chair Julie Gronlund feels otherwise.
"A an appointed school board member, I feel directly accountable to the community, and I believe everybody on the school board does. So do I think that will change very much? No I don't."
As far as diversity, Schilling's research shows elected school boards to be the most diverse, even though Gronlund's experiences do not support that.
"When I go to these state and local conferences and I look around at other school boards, really Charlottesville does have the rainbow coalition of school boards--not only are we diverse racially, but we also have more gender diversity and also age diversity."
According to Schilling after last year's issues with the school board, more people would rather a direct say as opposed to an indirect say in the city's educational policy. More than 60% of the school board members in Virginia are elected officials.