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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Fairfax delegates want to dissolve elected school board

By Rosalind S. Helderman

Two Fairfax delegates say they believe the county's elected school board has become dysfunctional and should be replaced by a body appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Concerned that school boards have the authority to spend taxpayer money without the corresponding responsibility of setting tax rates, Del. Tim Hugo (R) said he drafted legislation in preparation for this year's recently concluded legislative session that would have allowed county supervisors to dissolve elected school boards.

Hugo said he decided to drop the idea this year and spend more time thinking about the issue, but he's now become more convinced of the idea after reports about harsh student disciplinary policies in Fairfax. He said he will almost certainly file the bill next year.

"There's something wrong with the school board," Hugo said. "I wanted to give it more time, to make sure we were going through and doing this right. But these latest incidents with the situation regarding discipline has really pushed me to the edge. ... I think they're nonresponsive. And I think there needs to be some accountability."

The school board plans a review of disciplinary policies in the wake of the Jan. 20 suicide of 15-year-old Nick Stuban, a football player whose interactions with the Fairfax disciplinary system were detailed in a recent Washington Post story. Stuban was the second Fairfax student in two years to kill himself amid disciplinary proceedings.

"I'd like to give the county Board of Supervisors the opportunity, as soon as possible, to rectify the problem," Hugo said.

Fellow Republican Del. David Albo (Fairfax) said he has spoken with Hugo about the issue and had told him this year that he would support a measure to allow counties to dissolve their elected school boards. He said if Hugo files the bill next January, he'll support it.

Albo said he was not swayed by the recent disciplinary cases but has come more broadly to believe that education governance is flawed in Virginia, since voting to establish elected boards more than a decade ago.

"If I had one vote in my 18 years to take back, it would be elected school boards," he said. "Because they just don't work."

Albo said he has no problem with the current members of the Fairfax board -- indeed, he praised them for holding the toughest elected position in Virginia, since all of their decisions have direct impacts on people's kids. But he described as unworkable a system where school boards spend money that supervisors must collect through taxes.

"They come up with the budget, and then they basically rag on the county for not funding them properly," he continued. "The school board people never have to go into someone's pocket and take out the taxes. The county supervisors are in this horrible position every year of the school board saying, 'You guys are cutting education.' "

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | March 10, 2011; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Rosalind Helderman  
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Del. Hugo forgets that the decision to elect the School Board came from the voters of Fairfax County, not the Board of Supervisors. In the early 90s, Fairfax County citizens voted overwhelmingly to elect their School Board. If the voters prefer to have the Supervisors appoint the School Board, they need only petition for a referendum to return to an appointed Board.

More importantly, before slamming the elected School Board, Del. Hugo should educate himself about the incredible strides our schools are making in raising student achievement and reducing achievement gaps, in the face of growing mandates and shrinking funding. Our students have never been more successful, in large measure because the School Board set powerful goals, and kept focusing on them.

Instead of using the heavy hand of Richmond to override the decision of Fairfax County voters, I suggest that Del. Hugo use his power to increase Virginia's funding for public schools, instead of cutting it. In 2010 and 2011 Del. Hugo helped to reduce state education funding by nearly $1 billion. And at a time when Fairfax County enrollment has grown by 10,000 students, the Board of Supervisors HAS cut funding for education by $16 million. Debating whether to move to an appointed School Board cannot change these facts -- it can only distract from them.

The Board of Supervisors would not be under such pressure to raise property taxes -- which fund nearly 3/4 of the school budget -- if the General Assembly paid for its role as a full partner in our children's education. If he needs proof that the State is failing to do its job, Del. Hugo need only consider that, while Virginia ranks 8th in the nation in personal income, it only ranks 38th in state support for public schools.

Fairfax County voters do not need Richmond to tell them how to pick their school board. They DO need Richmond to help pay for our schools. Perhaps Del. Hugo can fix the inequity of Fairfax County taxpayers sending $1.5 billion/year to Richmond, while getting back less than $300 million. After all, that is the job he got elected to do.

Posted by: Tzedek2 | March 11, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

But, "Pothole Tim" really does know what is best for us.

After all, the rest of us are just uneducated and unenlightened peasants compared to Tim's
own country club fellows!

Posted by: TomPaine2 | March 11, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

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