Two Fairfax delegates say they believe the county’s elected school board has become dysfunctional and should be replaced by a body appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
Concerned that school boards have the authority to spend taxpayer money without the corresponding responsibility of setting tax rates, Del. Tim Hugo (R) said he drafted legislation in preparation for this year’s recently concluded legislative session that would have allowed county supervisors to dissolve elected school boards.
Hugo said he decided to drop the idea this year and spend more time thinking about the issue, but he’s now become more convinced of the idea after reports about harsh student disciplinary policies in Fairfax. He said he will almost certainly file the bill next year.
“There’s something wrong with the school board,” Hugo said. “I wanted to give it more time, to make sure we were going through and doing this right. But these latest incidents with the situation regarding discipline has really pushed me to the edge. ... I think they’re nonresponsive. And I think there needs to be some accountability.”
The school board plans a review of disciplinary policies in the wake of the Jan. 20 suicide of 15-year-old Nick Stuban, a football player whose interactions with the Fairfax disciplinary system were detailed in a recent Washington Post story. Stuban was the second Fairfax student in two years to kill himself amid disciplinary proceedings.
“I’d like to give the county Board of Supervisors the opportunity, as soon as possible, to rectify the problem,” Hugo said.
Fellow Republican Del. David Albo (Fairfax) said he has spoken with Hugo about the issue and had told him this year that he would support a measure to allow counties to dissolve their elected school boards. He said if Hugo files the bill next January, he’ll support it.
Albo said he was not swayed by the recent disciplinary cases but has come more broadly to believe that education governance is flawed in Virginia, since voting to establish elected boards more than a decade ago.
“If I had one vote in my 18 years to take back, it would be elected school boards,” he said. “Because they just don’t work.”
Albo said he has no problem with the current members of the Fairfax board — indeed, he praised them for holding the toughest elected position in Virginia, since all of their decisions have direct impacts on people’s kids. But he described as unworkable a system where school boards spend money that supervisors must collect through taxes.
“They come up with the budget, and then they basically rag on the county for not funding them properly,” he continued. “The school board people never have to go into someone’s pocket and take out the taxes. The county supervisors are in this horrible position every year of the school board saying, ‘You guys are cutting education.’ ”