ONCE AGAIN today -- as Virginia's lawmakers have done off and on for 32 years -- members of the General Assembly will talk about electing school boards. That's all they'll do about it, too, if tradition holds. For all sorts of bad reasons -- with roots in the bad old days of "massive resistance" to desegregation of the public schools in Virginia -- a majority of the legislature has refused to trust any voters of any local jurisdiction to elect their school boards. The excuses for maintaining this ban have been changed over the years, but it always seems to boil down to the tired rationale offered this year by Del. Earl V. Dickinson, Democrat of Mineral: "I'm saying if it ain't broke . . ." and you fill in the rest.
Yesterday, the focus of inaction was the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, where members expressed a reluctance to act on any measures because there is a class action suit challenging the ban. Today, the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear arguments on bills that are likely to die as their counterparts in the Senate are doing. But suit or no suit, why not give the option to local voters to elect school boards? If a county prefers its appointed board, fine. If it prefers elections, let them be held.
Prince William County Sen. Charles J. Colgan, sponsor of bills to allow voters to decide, looks at it this way: "The people were wise enough to send us here. We should be wise enough to let them elect their school board members." If this kind of wisdom remains in short supply in the legislature, perhaps those same voters may be wise enough again to starting sending some replacements to Richmond.