Arlington County voters were denied the opportunity of electing their school board members today when the House of Delegates turned a deaf ear to historical arguments and defeated a bill that its sponsor said would erase "the last vestige" of the state's resistance to desegregation.
Twenty-six years ago, Arlington, the first and only county in Virginia to get the General Assembly's permission to elect its school board, was stripped of that right as punishment for going against the state's prevailing policy of "massive resistance" to school desegregation.
Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington) told the House today, "It is our belief that Arlington voters should be allowed the right" to hold a referendum on electing school board members. The elected board, in place from 1947 to 1956, was extremely popular, she said, and it was lost to the voters "through no fault of their own."
Marshall's bill, which squeaked through a key committee last week, lost on the floor by a vote of 37 to 31 after opponents argued that elected school board members could campaign on promises to spend money without having the responsibility of raising it, since county school budgets are funded by boards of supervisors.
Del. Earl V. Dickinson (D-Louisa), who endorsed that view, also said the legislature should await the report results of a study commission, expected to be named this year, which will look into the issue of elected versus appointed school officials. Virginia is now the only state where all school boards are appointed.
Marshall today was able to keep other counties, including Fairfax, from joining her bill, arguing that the Arlington case was unique. The elected school board, in place from 1947 to 1956, was extremely popular, she said, adding, "we were very happy with what we had and would like to go back to it again." After the vote, however,she said most legislators feared that Arlington would only set a precedent for other counties. "It was perfectly clear to everybody that once Arlington had an elected school board, everybody else would be clamoring for it," she said.