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Alexandria School Board considering staggered terms, fewer members and eliminating districts

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 4:15 p.m.) Are there too many Alexandria School Board Members? Should their terms be staggered and should districts be eliminated? The Board wants these questions answered by the time voters cast their ballots in November 2024.

Yesterday (Tuesday), the nine-person Board unanimously agreed to establish a process for asking the public these questions. The answers will inform a Board resolution that is expected to go before the Alexandria City Council next year and the Virginia General Assembly in 2024.

For years, the Board has weighed whether to restructure its composition and change the frequency of elections to try and reduce turnover. Last night, members tied Board turnover to a pattern of superintendent resignations and heightened anxiety among school staff.

“The impact that the Board turnover has on staff is extremely significant,” said Board Member Tammy Ignacio, who was an Alexandria City Public Schools administrator before retiring and running for office last year. “When you have a turnover of the board, you have a turnover of some staff and a turnover of leadership. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety on staff, and when that happens it impacts kids.”

For instance, six new members joined just three incumbents on the School Board after the November 2021 election. Board Members said school leadership suffers when more than half the Board is learning the ropes of the school system at one time.

“I can attest to the to the challenges that happen with with the high level of a learning curve that Board Members have to go through, the impact it has on staff, and in both of those cases we also had superintendents resign,” said Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz, who has served two non-concurrent terms.

There were also five new Board Members elected in the 2018 election, five new Members in the 2015 election and seven new Members in the 2012 election.

School Board terms, and their respective City Council/Boards of Supervisor terms, across the region. (via ACPS)

There have also been three ACPS superintendents in the last decade, with a fourth set to be hired this spring.

“On average in ACPS, Superintendents resign nine months after a new School Board takes office,” notes an ACPS staff report. “Since 1994, four of the five superintendents left when the School Board turnover was five or more members.”

Since their first election in 1994, the city’s nine School Board members have served three-year terms for (three apiece in Districts A, B and C) with their elections and City Council’s held on the same day.

Last night, the Board reviewed some preliminary alternatives to the current election cycle, suggested by ACPS staff. They include:

  • Three-year Board Member term options — The two members of one district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026 and the third district in 2027
  • Four-year Board Member term options — One district would be up for election every year, starting in 2025, followed by the second district in 2026, the third district in 2027 and the fourth in 2028. There would be no election in 2029, and the rotation would begin in 2030
  • Four-year and only at-large positions — There would be five members up for election (selected randomly by the registrar) in 2026, no election in 2027, and the remaining four members up for election in 2028

Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) says that the concept of staggered terms makes sense, but said the option of having more elections for individual districts could confuse voters.

“If a single district was up for election every year as opposed to one seat, that could potentially lead to voter and candidate confusion, as many individuals don’t necessarily know what districts they reside in,” Bennett-Parker advised the Board.

Bennett-Parker serves in the legislature’s County, Cities and Towns Committee, which would would send forward the amendment to the Virginia Charter for the General Assembly for approval.

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