Archives - Jeff Rossman Answers Lloyd Snook on Elected School Boards
September 2005
Letters to the Editor: Jeff Rossman Answers Lloyd Snook on Elected School Boards
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It's a shame that Lloyd Snook was unable to attend the JABA breakfast on September 17th, because the discussion addressed most if not all of the concerns he raised in his recent letter about elected school boards. I would like to briefly respond to several of Lloyd's points:

*The reason that the school board rather than, say, the planning commission should be elected is that the former is a governing body and the latter is merely an advisory body. Steve Koleszar, who sits on Albemarle's elected school board, made this point persuasively on Saturday. School boards have large budgets, set policy, and hire and fire. This is why they need to be accountable to the voters.
*Lloyd makes much of the fact that school boards in VA do not have taxing authority, yet ignores the fact that most school boards in VA function well despite lacking such authority. It is highly unlikely that the school board and City Council will have significantly different views about the budget because the same voters will be choosing both board members and councilors. At any rate, having an appointed board does not prevent tensions from arising with council, as we saw this past spring.
*Lloyd is concerned about NIMBY politics, but his assumptions are oversimplified. In 1997, when Maurice Cox was toying with the idea of a ward system for council elections, a political scientist who specializes in electoral systems pointed out in the Daily Progress that ward-elected politicians often take citywide concerns into account when making decisions and that politicians elected citywide are often parochial in their thinking. There is no simple correlation as Lloyd assumes.
*According to a recent opinion of the city attorney, an elected school board would have the same number of wards (4) and the same number of school board members (7) as the current appointed board. It thus appears that Lloyd's assertion that an elected school board would have to grow in size is unfounded.
*It is simply inaccurate to say that "a vote for elected School Boards is also a vote for a ward system of electing City Councilors." Moving to a ward system for council elections would require acts of the City Council and the General Assembly, and despite years of discussion there has been absolutely no desire among Democratic councillors to move to a ward system.
*Almost all of the thirteen individuals who "ran" for the school board this past spring said that they would have put themselves up for election if that was the only way to get on the school board. So electing the school board will not deter a significant number of qualified individuals. Moreover, a transparent electoral process will draw new people into the competition -- individuals who thus far have been dissuaded from participating because of the opaque and intimidating appointment process.
*Lloyd apparently has less faith in the voters of Charlottesville than I do. I trust the voters of the city -- 72 percent of whom voted for John Kerry -- to choose a diverse group of well-qualified candidates for the school board. A city that repeatedly gives the most votes to African-American city councillors is a city that is committed to diversity. Moerover, creationists and intelligent designers are not going to get far in this blue university town, Lloyd's fears notwithstanding.
*Lloyd and I have very different views about the nature of democratically elected institutions. I believe that such institutions tend to be more responsive, to operate more transparently, and to pursue policies that enjoy public support. These beliefs derive from my years of studying democratic and nondemocratic regimes. For all its faults, the democratic system is more stable and, ultimately, effective.
*Lloyd and I also have different views about the democratic political process, which he dismisses as so much "speechifying and grandstanding." By contrast, I believe that the democratic political process, for all its flaws, trains candidates to think about challenging issues and to communicate with and educate the public. This process is one that our schools and the community at large will benefit from if we transition to an elected school board.


Jeffrey Rossman (electronic mail, September 20, 2005)

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