A Political (Elected) School Board: Is It Good for Hanover County? - Middle Resolution

September 12, 2023
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A Political (Elected) School Board: Is It Good for Hanover County?

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Early voting begins on September 22nd. In Hanover County, where Middle Resolution is located, there will be a referendum on the ballot asking voters to replace appointed school boards with political school boards. Presently, Hanover School Board members are appointed by the corresponding members of the Board of Supervisors in their district. We believe that all school boards should be appointed. There are several reasons for this, but first…

You might wonder why our PAC supports the existence of appointed school boards since we are heavily involved in political school board races across the state. Simply, no matter the method of selecting a school board member, we believe it is critical to the future of Virginia that school boards are represented by school board members who represent their district, respect the rights of parents, focus on education rigor, respect the rule of law and above all keep our children safe. Unfortunately, that is not true in many of our school districts with political school boards.

A Little History
Before 1992, almost all school boards in VA were appointed. In 1992, Governor Wilder signed a law allowing school districts to change to political school boards if the voters approved a referendum on the ballot. By 2022, 117 school districts had switched to political school boards and 15 remained appointed.

More recently, in the 2023 General Assembly, HB 1574 was introduced to make it easier to change from an appointed to a political school board. The bill died with a bipartisan vote, 11-27. Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat from Charlottesville, cautioned that HB 1574 could create increased conflict between the Board of Supervisors and School Boards.

Why Vote for a Political School Board in Hanover County?
The number one reason, and only reason, proponents support political school boards is that they believe the decision for a school board representative should be closest to the voter. They say, “That’s Democracy.” Admittedly, that sounds reasonable.

However, the research is rather conclusive; school districts governed by appointed school boards have a much more beneficial impact on students and the community they serve than political school boards.

School Performance
Let’s begin with performance. In the Richmond region, Hanover is the only appointed school board. Hanover students outperform students in Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond. All of which have political school boards.

WTVR CBS 6 reported that Hanover had the highest 3rd – 8th grades SOL scores in the region. Additionally, the Hanover scores exceeded the state average while the rest of the central region districts fell below the state average.

In fact, Hanover exceeded all of the surrounding school districts in a number of metrics, including economically disadvantaged student proficiency, graduation rates, advanced degrees, chronic absenteeism and dropout rates. (See graphs below)

Clearly, our appointed school board along with the Hanover school administration is doing an incredible job educating Hanover students.

Source: https://schoolquality.virginia.gov/download-data

Why mess with success?

Teacher Shortage
Presently, there is a massive teacher shortage in VA as reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch on August 27, 2023. Richmond has a shortage of 120 licensed teachers and Henrico has a shortage of 100 teachers. Hanover on the other hand, has five openings and four are being filled shortly. 

Hanover’s appointed school board has made it a priority to ensure qualified teachers are teaching Hanover students.

Political School Boards Are Less Diverse
Research by the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2020 revealed that elected “[s]chool board members are disproportionately likely to come from wealthier, whiter, and more educated neighborhoods within districts” (Mahnken, 2019). Essentially, they found that political school boards tend to be less representative of their districts. 

This becomes a big problem because political school boards can exacerbate existing inequities in the schools. Is this what we want in Hanover?

Campaigning Requires Time and Money – Leaves Little Time for Governing
As I mentioned above, the Middle Resolution PAC is involved in school board races all over VA this year. We began interviewing candidates in April. That means these candidates started their campaigns eight months prior to the election. They had to start knocking on doors to get signatures to be on the ballot. They had to start fundraising events. In many cases, candidates must raise as much as $50,000 – $80,000 for their campaign.

Famed economist Thomas Sowell once said, Politicians are trying to solve their own problems – of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”

Running a campaign takes a lot of time away from ensuring students have the resources they need to succeed.

Political School Boards Discourage Qualified Candidates from Running for Office
Proponents of political school boards believe that they will be able to vote for the candidate they prefer. However, that is not the case in about one-third of the school board races in VA. There are over 600 school board races this year but there are almost 200 candidates who are unopposed. In these school districts, voters will have no options. Democracy does not exist in those districts.

Hanover recently had two school board member terms expire. In both cases, there were more than five individuals who offered their time to serve in those positions. With appointed school boards, communities get a better selection of candidates than with political school boards.

Political school boards greatly reduce the choices voters have for qualified candidates running for school boards.

Hanover Remained Open During Covid
Hanover was the largest school division in the Commonwealth to offer five-day, in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many school divisions offered virtually no in-person learning for the majority of their students for the entirety of the 2021 school year.

Hanover students came out the pandemic with the least learning loss in VA. With the new COVID strain, Eris, beginning to spread, we are already seeing school divisions shut down across the country.

Political school boards experience tremendous political pressure from the teacher unions, who are not looking out for the best interest of the students. Hanover’s appointed school board has shown they can ignore the political pressure and do what is right for the students.

Conclusion
Hanover County clearly outperforms other school districts in VA. That is something we should be proud of here in Hanover. Why would we want to risk that? We ask you to vote “no” on the referendum on the ballot this coming election. The future of Hanover County’s public education system depends on it.

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If you would like to donate by mail. Please send a check to PO Box 479, Mechanicsville, VA 23111