The Clarke County School Board wants to change the political landscape in Clarke and is asking the Board to Supervisors to modify the election process to support staggered terms for both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.
“I worry about continuity of leadership” Dr. Michael Murphy told school board members at last week’s regular meeting.
Murphy said that Clarke County’s current practice of electing all of its county supervisors and school board members at the same time creates the potential for leadership challenges if several, or all, elective officials are simultaneously voted out of office by the public.
Clarke County’s current school board membership resulted from voters replacing nearly all members of the previous school board at the same time over dissatisfaction with progress related to constructing the new high school. Several members of the current school board have since voiced frustration with the organizational and informational challenges that were required in order to become productive in the months following the previous election.
“Our initial six months in office were quite a struggle” said school board member Robina Bouffault (White Post).
To preempt a similar future leadership vacuum, Dr. Murphy proposed that the school board move to a “staggered term” so that only a portion of the membership stands for election every four years. If adopted, the new election process would require two to three members, depending on the plan put in place, to voluntarily limit their term of office to only two years and then stand for re-election in a special election or be appointed through a process defined by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.
School Board members voiced unanimous support for Murphy’s suggestion.
“There is a lot complexity in a modern school board” said school board Jennifer Welliver (Berryville). “I’m in favor of staggered terms mainly for retaining experience.”
Board members Robina Bouffault (White Post) and Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) agreed that staggered terms would provide improved continuity for initiatives that span more than one school board term.
However, as much as the school board members may be in favor of redefining its election structure, final say on the matter rests with the Clarke County Board of Supervisors according to Dr. Murphy.
“If the Board of Supervisors is not in favor then it is up to your constituents to see if they are in favor of the idea” Murphy said.
Murphy said that discussions with legal counsel at the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) indicate that Virginia school board election terms must comply with the election terms of the county board of supervisors. Murphy suggested that the most expedient method for accomplishing the electoral change would be for the Clarke County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance authorizing staggered terms for itself which would then manifest as a requirement in Clarke County School Board elections.
Murphy said that if the Supervisors are not inclined to make the election term change, other options are available to the school board.
“The idea can be added to the ballot with a petition signed by 1,400 voters” Murphy said. “Or a Virginia senator or delegate can sponsor a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would authorize staggered terms for the school board even if the supervisor’s terms are not staggered.”
Murphy suggested that if the school board was interested in staggered terms then the next move would be to add the topic to the Board of Supervisors’s agenda for further consideration.
The school board concluded the staggered term discussion by unanimously directing School Board chairman Barbara Lee (Millwood) to send a letter to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors requesting discussion and consideration of staggered terms for both the school board and the supervisor elections.