By Coby W. Dillard
The right of self-determination is one of the foundational principles of our country. We have the right – and some would argue the duty – to decide for ourselves what type of government we should have, who should lead it, and how it should function. That right, granted by God, is not one that can be easily subordinated to the whims of a powerful few-especially not here in Virginia, where we exercise it every year at the ballot box.
In the midst of this year’s election cycle, there is an effort underway that will allow the citizens of Norfolk their most important opportunity to exercise this right on an issue that affects all of us who live here.
A group of citizens and teachers, under the umbrella of Norfolk Citizens for an Elected School Board, is on a mission to bring the question of elected school boards to the ballot this fall. In 1992, Virginia became the last state in the country to allow elected school boards. Since then, more than 80 percent of Virginia’s localities have opted to have their boards elected rather than appointed. Norfolk is one of the largest cities in the commonwealth where those who serve on our school board are selected by a governing body instead of the people.
Over the last few years, our schools have been rocked by repeated scandals. From rampant cheating on assessment tests to the questionable ending of a hired superintendent’s tenure – months after it began – both Norfolk’s children and teachers have suffered under the lead of an entity that seems more apt to serve as puppets of City Council than as protectors and administrators of our future generations.
In fairness, elected school boards come with their own set of issues. People with no real knowledge of our schools or the political processes in our city could get elected and cause further harm—not maliciously, but owing to a lack of knowledge. Others could use an elected board as an starting point to higher office, leading to instability, high turnover, and (further) cronyism. There is no guarantee that an elected school board will be no less dysfunctional than our current appointed board.
None of that, though, is the larger issue.
Just like the pending healthcare lawsuits, there is more to this question than the issue that’s being argued. The overarching question is whether the citizens of Norfolk have the right to determine what’s in their best interest. In essence, is our right to self-determination just a theory that exists in a document signed some 200 years ago, or is it a tool for use when an entity is no longer responsible or accountable to those it purports to serve?
Whether or not our school boards are elected or appointed is a question that only we as residents of Norfolk can-and should answer. It’s our duty as responsible citizens in this great city.
For more information or to support Norfolk Citizens for an Elected School Board, visit http://electedschoolboard.com.
Coby W. Dillard is a local Republican activist and the co-founder of the Hampton Roads Tea Party. He can be reached at email@example.com.