More than two dozen politicians and parents told a state legislative committee last night in Fairfax that Virginians should be allowed to elect school boards.
But members of a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee said the General Assembly will probably continue to resist any attempt to give that choice to the voters.
"It's time for Virginia to join the rest of the United States and allow localities to elect their school boards if they so choose," said Del. Frank Medico (R-Fairfax). Virginia is the only state in the nation that has appointed school boards.
Medico was among a large group of delegates who told subcommittee members that informal surveys of their constituents showed a large majority opposes the state's system of selecting school boards.
In some areas of the state, school board members are selected by electoral boards, which are appointed by local circuit court judges. But in most Virginia jurisdictions, school board appointments are made by local governing boards.
During the past 10 years, legislation has been introduced periodically in the General Assembly to grant all jurisdictions, or specific ones, the right to elect school boards. Bills that would have allowed Arlington, Prince William and Fairfax counties to elect their school boards have been passed by the House Privileges and Elections Committee but defeated on the floor. In the Senate, bills that would given this choice to all jurisdictions in the state have been killed in committee.
The bill that prompted last night's hearing and sessions in Virginia Beach and Charlottesville was introduced in 1976 by Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge).
Del. Ford C. Quillen (D-Gate City), who chaired last night's hearing in the County Board of Supervisors meeting room, estimated that only five of the 20 members of the Privileges and Election Committees would support a bill to elect school boards.
Some delegates fear that Virginia, which put up a massive resistance to school desegregation only two decades ago, would not elect minorities to school boards or would not serve minority interests in that forum.
Other delegates, such as subcommittee member Claude W. Anderson (D-Buckingham), are concerned that elected school boards that do not have taxing authority would spend considerable time clashing with the governing board that holds the purse strings.
But delegates and citizens argued during last night's hearing that school boards should be directly accountable to the voting public.
"How many candidates for supervisor campaign for election on the basis of whom they plan to appoint to the school board and their educational platform?" asked Harley W. Williams, chairman of Virginians for Initiative and Referendum.
Responding to the criticism that elected school boards would become "political," Del. Gladys B. Keating (D-Franconia) said that "anyone who believes that they are not that way at present is incredibly naive."