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Discontent with School Board members sparks talk of recall

Editor’s note: Readers have posted comments on The Journal’s website about ways to change the composition of the King George School Board. Some have suggested organizing a recall effort for the school board members. One commenter suggested running on a party ticket to prevent federal employees from running. Another has suggested returning to an appointed School Board. Because of the discussion about whether and how to recall members and

how to select school board members, we want to provide some context. We label this as analysis; long-time readers will recall that The Journal promoted a previous effort to return to an appointed school board.

Public comments at a School Board meeting on March 14 along with various comments on news stories over the last several weeks indicate a growing discontent with school officials among a segment of voters in King George.

At that meeting earlier this month, School Board member Lynn Pardee responded for the School Board, saying, in part, “If you’re unhappy with what we’re doing, it’s up to you. It is absolutely up to you.”

Whether you agree with Pardee on other matters, this is one area where she seems to be correct.
Legal requirements for candidacy specify little. Residency and registration to vote are the minimum requirements under the law.

The terms for Pardee, Renee Parker and Dennis Paulsen are all up this year. Whether incumbents run or not, eligible residents should consider running to give voters a choice. (See Page 1 article on running for office.)

PETITION DRIVE?
But some residents don’t feel they can wait for the end of the current terms to fire some current School Board members.

Prior to this fall’s election, there is a group of parents looking into the process of starting a petition drive to see if they can get rid of current school board members.

That effort has been fed by some long-term discontent and recently sparked by various instances of non-compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, violent incidents coming to light at county schools, and by state Virginia Department of Education findings of systemic non-compliance in provision of some educational services.

State law allows for removal of elected officials by the court upon a petition signed by the number of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office held. 

To get rid of elected officials, state law cites neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when it has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.

Those who are gearing up a recall petition drive see plenty of reasons they think would meet the criteria in state code.

An organized effort to get rid of School Board members might not only send a strong message to current officials but also to potential candidates about the public’s expectations for performance of duties.

USUALLY NO CHOICE ON BALLOT
In King George, the main problem with electing school board members is that there is often little or no choice on the ballot.

Over the last decade, most races for School Board have provided no choice in candidates.

• In 2009 two School Board seats were up for election and there was no choice or contest in either. Only one name was on the ballot in one district and no names in the other, with a write-in candidate winning without a contest.
• In 2007 four seats were up for election (including a special election) and three out of the four ran without opposition candidates.

• In 2005 two seats were up for election and both incumbents ran without opposition candidates.
• In 2003 three seats were up for election and two of the three ran without opposition candidates.

ELECTED SCHOOL BOARDS
Virginia was the last state in the nation to provide the ability for localities to elect their School Board members, with legislation by the General Assembly in 1992. King George was one of the first localities to get the referendum on the ballot when given the chance. 

By Aug. 6, 1992, petitions were filed, along with a court order for the question to be on the ballot, which passed that fall, paving the way for the first School Board election in 1995.

Some say it’s been downhill ever since. Elected school boards seem to work in large localities, but not-so-much in small ones like King George.

Many think the method of selecting King George School Board members should be changed back to appointment by the Board of Supervisors, which is the only other choice at this point.

When that was in effect, there were always numerous volunteers vying for appointment.

That selection change could take place upon a successful referendum if the question could be put on this fall’s ballot. That would also require a petition drive that is likewise currently being talked up in King George.

It was tried unsuccessfully back in 2004. But state law allows for successive tries by repeating referendums.
There are many in the county who point to the additional evidence of lack of candidates in recent elections noted above.

If such a referendum question were to pass, the terms of School Board members in office would end on June 30, 2012, with appointments to be made by Supervisors, effective July 1, 2012.

If the county went back to appointing school board members, state law requires that the Board of Supervisors publish an advertisement for applicants to come forward at a public hearing to be held at least seven days prior to any appointment. 

No surprise appointments could be made, as the law requires that appointees’ names be put forward at the public hearing.  Another purpose of the public hearing is to encourage residents to tell Supervisors whom they want appointed and what qualities they desire in a School Board member.

Appointments would be made with one member from each of the four election districts and one at-large, which mirrors the current make-up. Terms would still be for four years, though initial appointments could be made for shorter terms to provide for staggering the expiration of terms.

Phyllis Cook

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