A key House committee today approved a measure that would allow Arlington voters to elect school board members.
The committee's 10-to-8 vote was a triumph for Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington) who year after year has pleaded the uniqueness of the Arlington case before the committee, which traditionally is a graveyard for bills that would allow school board members to be elected.
"I want to remind everyone that Arlington is different," Marshall told the committee, "I don't know of any other jurisdiction where there is no opposition to an elected school board."
The bill would put the issue of an elected vs. appointed school board before Arlington voters in a referendum. It faces tough opposition on the House floor where opponents are likely to argue that making an exception for Arlington would only invite other communities to seek elected school boards.
"It's not the healthiest bill in the General Assembly," Marshall said, "but now we have a chance to start the battle again."
Arlington has been battling for an elected school board since 1956 when the state legislature, angered by Arlington's decision to proceed with school integration, punished the county by stripping it of its elected school board.
That reprisal, taken during the height of the state's "massive resistance" to school integration, still is a sore issue in Arlington, Marshall said. "A lot of people are still very angry," she said.
Arlington had been the first and only county in Virginia ever to seek permission to elect school board members. After 1956, no community has ever successfully won that same right, although bills also have been introduced for Fairfax County, among others.