GOLDMAN: Governor-elect McAuliffe may face first Education Test

Posted on: 10:47 am, December 12, 2013, by

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – Will the State Board of Education do the right thing for Richmond’s school students?

As first written here, there is nothing definitive in state law preventing the State Board of Education from doing the right thing and granting the Richmond School Board a few more weeks to make the best possible choice for Richmond’s new School Chief.

This is in the best interests of the students, and their parents, not to mention the city.

I have learned that the School Board will be formally asking the State Board for an extension of time in which to select a permanent new school division head.

Such an extension is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of Virginia Code Section 22.1-60, which tracks Article VIII, Section 5 of the State Constitution.

Mayor Jones should support the petition publicly, indeed write a supporting letter.

The state constitution is based on a policy preference for local control of education. It does give the State Board of Education certain superior authority in certain circumstances, some depending on the passage of state laws.

Section 22.1-60 is one of those laws, aiming to prod local school boards to fill any “vacancy” in the top Superintendent position no later than 180 days after said “vacancy” occurs.

This makes sense.

If the local folks don’t act fast enough, the constitution says the State Board “shall” fill the vacancy.

The General Assembly’s decision to give local boards 180 days is reasonable. But it is not reasonable to interpret a vague law as saying 180 days is an immovable line. This makes no policy nor legal common sense.

Why?

The term “vacancy” is not defined in the law.

Richmond has an acting Superintendent as permitted by State Board regulations. So is there a “vacancy” in the Superintendent’s position triggering the 180 day rule?

Moreover, since the State Board is given the power to choose a local school chief if the 180 day “line” is crossed, then it  has the inherent power to exercise that power as it sees fit. Including determining that no vacancy exists or that it can grant a reasonable extension.

MOST IMPORTANTLY THOUGH, as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, our system of laws will lose public support over time if said laws are seen to defy common sense, and lead to silly results as interpreted by public officials.

RICHMOND, like all other jurisdictions, is supposed to pick its school system chief. This has been the accepted practice for generations. The School Board has worked diligently in that direction.

They have, in this process, promised a certain level of public participation. But the School Board Chairman recently claimed that due to the 180 rule, said promise of public participation would have to be drastically curtailed if not eliminated.

THIS SERVES NO USEFUL PUBLIC PURPOSE.

Indeed it risks a new superintendent taking office under a cloud, OR WORSE, imposed by the State Board of Education.

This would be very bad for a school system with enough challenges already.

ENTER THEN GOVERNOR-ELECT McAULIFFE.

Richmond overwhelmingly supported his election. He gets to appoint the State Board of Education. If the current State Board of Education is either so power crazy as to demand the right to impose school chief on Richmond, or mess-up the process due to a hyper technical, interpretation of state law, then Governor-elect McAuliffe needs to send them a message.

This is no way to improve education in Richmond.

The State Board should grant a 30-day extension. If the School Board can’t finish the job in that period, then the State Board needs to step in. But not until then.

This is supposed to be about the kids, not the pols, not the egos, not lawyers who get paid no matter how useless their conclusions.

I have no idea whether the Richmond School Board is capable of picking a qualified Superintendent. We shall see.

But having the State force a choice on us due to some hyper-technical power play is clearly the absolutely wrong  policy by any analysis.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.