The Virginia PTA/PTSA has proposed legislation that would create a state school board elected by voters not appointed by the governor.
Dissatisfaction over the lack of representation in certain school divisions and an absence of a public voice in matters like the Standards of Learning (SOL) lies behind the proposal, some parents said.
“We would love to see a board more responsive to the public and not to the governor who appointed them,” said Mickey VanDerWerker of the group Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs.
She said the PTA in her county, Bedford, already had voted for the proposed legislation, which would establish a school board consisting of one member per eight superintendents’ regions and one at-large member.
“The State Board of Education is a policy-making body affecting every public school student in the Commonwealth. As such, representation from all parts of the State would provide for a balanced approach in making policy,” the legislation reads.
Currently, a Virginia PTA policy statement supports the governor’s appointments to the board.
The state PTA will back the legislation and try to find a sponsor in the General Assembly. Results from members will come in at the next state PTA meeting Nov. 16-17, said Diane Sergeant, PTA chairman of legislation.
The state PTA put forward the proposal after reviewing recommendations sent by member PTAs around the state, Mrs. Sergeant said.
“For us, this is a matter of representation,” she said. “Right now, Fairfax, the largest school division in the district, is represented by just one member. And there is no one representing Virginia Beach, the second-largest division.”
State Sen. John W. Russell, a Fairfax member to the state school board, said representation from certain areas did not make any difference to board decisions “because we all make decisions for the entire commonwealth.”
Under the state’s constitution, the current nine-member board is appointed by the governor. Each member serves a four-year term. Elections are held every two years.
Several state boards of education throughout the country, including Texas, are elected. Over the past five years, several school divisions within Virginia have moved from appointed to elected School Boards.
In Virginia, “when people appoint the governor, they appoint his ability to select members to the board,” said Board of Education President Kirk T. Schroder.
Some parents say they are cheated out of their say in education matters by an appointed board. Particularly frustrated are parents who say their calls for SOL reforms are not being heard.
In Fairfax, matters came to a head last week when some parents accused Deputy Secretary of Education Cheri Yecke and board member Mark Christie of backing out of an SOL forum organized by parents calling for reform of the tests.
In the end, the forum did not have any representation from the Board of Education but was attended by Fairfax County schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech.
Forum co-organizer Joan Daly said an elected board would have precluded such attitude from forum members, particularly with regard to parents’ complaints about the SOLs.
She also questioned the credentials of the current board members. “The president is an entertainment lawyer and one of the members sends her children to private school,” Miss Daly said.
The board member who sends her children to private school, Jennifer Curtis Byler, said she does so because of the religious education they receive in the private school. “That is really important to me,” she said.
She added that the appointed board members avoid politicizing. “You get citizens who do not put themselves through a political process of campaigning,” she said.
Fairfax PTA President Mitch Luxenburg said that while his group has not yet come to a decision on how to vote on the legislation, he personally feels the board should be elected.
“Right now, there is no lever we can push,” he said. “With an elected school board, we can make our voice heard every year.”