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The Montgomery County and Bedford County school boards are expected to decide whether to support a new state entity that would take over schools having trouble with accreditation.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Three area school systems, with others poised to follow, are supporting a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a statewide district to take over schools.
The Opportunity Educational Institution, a key part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education agenda, was established by the General Assembly this year. It has the authority to take over a school that has been denied accreditation, or those that have been accredited with warning for three consecutive years.
Last month the Norfolk School Board voted to join the Virginia School Boards Association in a lawsuit aiming to invalidate the OEI. The lawsuit was filed Friday and contends the measure is unconstitutional.
A spokesman for the governor said the Virginia Constitution requires the state to provide high quality schools and gives the General Assembly the authority to establish “necessary institutions.”
The VSBA has called on school boards across the state to pass a resolution supporting the lawsuit. As of Thursday, 23 systems statewide passed the resolution and more are expected to follow suit later this month.
Locally, the Roanoke, Roanoke County and Botetourt County school boards have passed the resolution. The Montgomery County School Board is expected to take it up Tuesday. The Bedford County School Board also has discussed the measure and a vote is scheduled for later this month.
The Salem School Board passed a broader resolution urging the overhaul of the state’s assessment and accountability system, but references a state entity taking over schools as unconstitutional.
“It truly is a statewide issue for all of our boards,” said Barbara Coyle, VSBA executive director. “We believe strongly it violates the constitution of the state of Virginia.”
Coyle said the constitution states supervision of schools shall be vested in a school board and the Virginia Board of Education will create school systems. She said in this case the General Assembly created the OEI.
“It is the constitutional issue. That’s the biggest thing for us,” Coyle said, adding for local divisions the issue is about having more schools taken over in the future.
Coyle and local school board members said they believe control of schools should be local.
Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell, said in an email that the General Assembly made the decision to establish the OEI because “a means of last resort must be implemented to ensure every Virginia student receives the high quality education they deserve.”
“If some want to sue to keep children in failing schools, that’s incredibly disappointing. Virginia’s parents and students deserve far better,” Martin said.
Days after Norfolk officials voted to file suit, McDonnell was in Norfolk defending the OEI. The same day Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is also the Republican candidate for governor, said in a letter to McDonnell that he cannot defend the suit after “an analysis of the constitutional issues involved.”
Roanoke School Board member Annette Lewis said Tuesday the measure is unconstitutional and that it was good to know the attorney general agrees.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where this goes from here if he doesn’t feel he can represent the state in this,” she said before the board voted on the resolution.
The Roanoke School Board voted unanimously to pass the measure Tuesday,
“I think it’s a travesty on public education what the state did this last year with the OEI legislation,” board member Lori Vaught said.
The Roanoke County School Board, which voted to pass the resolution Thursday, said the OEI isn’t the right way to go.
“This particular methodology is probably not going to pass muster in terms of constitutionality,” said board member David Wymer. “I applaud their effort, but it might be the wrong vehicle to bring about that change.”
Staff writer Cathy Benson contributed to this report.
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