Finally, the school year is winding down. But, there are several of us still actively focused on our schools. Specifically, the as-yet-to-be elected Norfolk Public School Board and citywide accountability of these elected School Board members. And, we need your help, your signature and your voice. More on that in a bit.
First, let’s rewind the tape. To do so, let’s go old-school with a timeline, just like in History class.
November, 2014: More than 85% of voters supported a referendum to begin electing the seven members of the Norfolk Public School board. [To date, all School Board members have been appointed by Norfolk City Council.]
December, 2014: Norfolk City Council held two public hearings to gather input on how citizens want to elect a school board. At large (i.e., voters elect all 7 of 7 members)? Ward system (just as City Council is elected, in which voters can only elect 2 of 7 members)? A hybrid approach? More than 85% of the diverse group of citizens spoke against wards because of the limited accountability this system provides.
January 27, 2015: After 14 of 15 speakers pleaded with City Council NOT to elect by wards during the council meeting; a massive social media campaign against wards; numerous editorials and letters to the editor; and, the public input generated in opposition to wards at the public hearings in December, citizens were shocked when Norfolk City Council voted 5-3 in favor of electing the school board via a ward-based system. (Fraim, Williams, Johnson, Riddick, and Winn voted for; Protogyrou, Smigiel, and Whibley voted against.) Why would City Council not listen to its citizens after such consistent, widespread and vocal opposition?
February, 2015: A grassroots effort began with the intention of petitioning City Council to repeal their 5-3 ward-based vote and replace with an alternative hybrid option. Our group took the name Better Together Norfolk, because we believed that our city – and our schools — were better with citywide accountability.
April-May, 2015: Recognizing that we are, indeed, better together, Norfolk, we began meeting with other groups of concerned citizens, including Norfolk GAINS and the Norfolk Branch, NAACP, to further discuss the best option for school board elections. From those meetings, we emerged with a unified voice and request. The group sent a jointly signed letter on May 29, 2015, asking City Council to repeal their ward-based election method, and replace with a system that provides for at-large voting for candidates who meet residency requirements in geographic districts. In other words, we asked for citywide accountability for all School Board members (each candidate will be elected by ALL Norfolk voters) and geographic diversity (ensuring that we have representation on our School Board from throughout our city).
June, 2015: Here’s how you, our fellow concerned citizen, can help:
- Sign our petition to REPEAL the ward-based ordinance. You are welcome to print out the petition, collect signatures from other registered Norfolk voters and bring in to the Norfolk Federation of Teachers office (3620 Tidewater Drive, Norfolk, VA) for notarization (no later than June 8), or if you simply want to sign a petition yourself, you can stop by the NFT office to do so. (Please note, you can NOT sign your own petition on which you are collecting signatures.)
- Email your city council representatives, the Mayor, and the Vice Mayor by June 8th, and express your concerns. Please ask them to REPEAL the ward-based ordinance and REPLACE it with our widely-supported REPLACEMENT option that provides citywide accountability and maintains geographic diversity.
- Join us on June 9 in City Council chambers (7pm, Norfolk City Hall, 810 Union Street, 11th Floor) as we present the signed petitions and our joint letter from Norfolk Branch, NAACP, Norfolk GAINS and Better Together Norfolk. Sign up to speak or provide moral support for those who do.
For those of you with kids in the school system, this isn’t a hard sell. You get it, I’m sure. Our schools are in trouble and we need more effective leadership. Period. For those who don’t have kids, or your kids are long gone from NPS, you, too, need to be worried about our schools. Our city suffers when residents or businesses relocate to better school districts in neighboring cities. This affects our real estate values and economic development. Our schools are the future of our city. We all need to pay attention and be concerned.
And, we believe this citywide accountability and geographic representation will best ensure that we have the most effective School Board and provide the best school system for our children.
Please help us to be Better Together, Norfolk.
P.S.- The first school board election will take place in May, 2016. In advance of this, Norfolk City Council will be making four appointments (three-year terms) this month, June, 2014! They will be taking nominations for these appointments at the June 9th City Council meeting.