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
*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
Jeffrey Rossman (electronic mail, September 20, 2005)