Morris seeks to allow Southampton voters to choose school board

Published 8:45 am Friday, June 8, 2012

COURTLAND—State Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, plans to introduce legislation that would allow Southampton County voters to choose their school board members instead of a three-person, judge-appointed committee.

“I believe anyone who is spending the public’s money needs to be accountable to the voter,” Morris said. “It’s just a matter of changing the code.”

Southampton is among 24 of Virginia’s 134 school districts where voters do not choose school board members.

In 1991, Virginia was the only state with school boards composed only of appointed members. The General Assembly a year later gave localities the option to elect school board members.

The Virginia School Boards Association has no preference on how it’s done, said Gina Patterson, the group’s assistant executive director in Charlottesville.

“It varies from division to division,” said Patterson, noting of the 24 holdouts, three school districts use committees to make appointments, while city councils or supervisors make appointments in the remaining 21.

In Franklin, school board members are appointed by the City Council, while in Isle of Wight County, voters elect them.

Morris noted that the General Assembly should not allow a non-elected committee to appoint members to spend voters’ money.

“They need to be held accountable to the voters in some fashion,” he said. “In the current situation, the committee is not held accountable to the voters.”

Morris is not opposed to Franklin’s process because City Council is elected.

Ten times Russell Schools was appointed to the Southampton County School Board. Only once was the Capron District representative challenged.

The 77-year-old, who will retire at the end of the month after 41 years on the board, has no problem with the appointment process.

Schools said he doesn’t believe either way will make a difference.

“In some counties they go one way, and some, the other,” he said. “I really don’t think it makes much of a difference.”