Deadline in the sand: School board candidates cry foul

Applications for the three open seats on the Charlottesville School Board were due June 2. Unlike late homework assignments that get students in trouble, City Council has a more flexible attitude. Last week, Council voted 4-1 to extend the due date until June 6.

Two of the five candidates who got their applications in on time are irate that the door was propped open for latecomers.

"It's kind of aggravating," says Kenneth Jackson, who also applied for the board last year. "I feel like the majority of City Council is waiting for their cronies to step up."

Councilor Rob Schilling, the lone Republican, cast the dissenting vote. "This is punitive to people who got their application in on time," says Schilling. "I'm very distressed by this. I think it's bad public policy."

In fact, City Council has a pattern of extending the deadline for school board applicants– and did so in both 2001 and 2002. Mayor Maurice Cox defends the practice because its goal is an expanded pool of candidates for a more competitive slate. He recalls years in which there were 22 candidates vying for three positions on the school board.

"Asking for a larger pool sounds like code language for 'We don't like the current candidates,'" counters Schilling.

On-time candidate Sue Lewis agrees: "It's because certain people on Council don't like the applicant pool. That's why they're out recruiting. That's it in a nutshell."

There's been some grumbling that the Democratic-heavy City Council wants additional candidates who are part of the Democratic machine.

"That's nonsense," exclaims Cox. "I fought so hard to make this not about being Democrat or Republican. To put it in terms of party patronage is so off base. It makes me cringe that people think we make decisions based on party affiliation."

While would-be candidates Jackson and Lewis are well-known, non-machine Dems, Cox points to last year's appointments of Bill Igbani and Michael Heard. "I'd never heard of them before," says Cox. "Both had kids in the system and both made a strong impression."

(Heard created one of the current vacancies when he resigned to become the city schools' director of human resources.)

As for Peggy Van Yahres, who has a well-known name in Democratic circles, Cox cites her work in the school system and in the PTO Council, and says, "It was a major coup to get someone so engaged."

Dede Smith and Muriel Wiggins, who currently sit on the school board and whose terms expire June 30, also are applicants. So is John Santoski, who served one term on the board and was not reappointed in 2002.

Santoski is more understanding about the deadline extension. "I always think it's a good idea to have more candidates," he says. Besides, "I had waited until the last moment to decide."

By the June 6 deadline, five additional candidates– Bill Lucy, Kenneth Young, Laurine Bennett-Moore, Bradford Lamb and Byron Brown– had applied for the three open positions, raising the field to ten.

Mayor Cox says that for him, the public forum is the ultimate proving ground for candidates. "Candidates tend to stand or fall in how they present themselves," he says. The League of Women Voters held a candidates' forum June 9, and a public hearing will be held June 16.

Of course, some object to the fact that Charlottesville's school board is appointed rather than elected. Frequently outvoted Schilling campaigned for an elected board.

"If we had an elected school board, so what if we only had two candidates?" asks Lewis, a financial adviser who's served on the City Planning Commission and the Housing Authority Board. "This is the only thing I've really wanted to do, and unfortunately, it's a political appointment."

City Council will vote on school board appointments at the end of June.


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