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Alexandria School Board seeking public input on significant elections changes

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria could be making significant changes to the way the School Board is elected, from staggered terms to breaking alignment with the standard election cycles.

A new survey suggests that School Board elections could be changed to staggered terms, meaning school board members are elected across different years rather than all at once.

Other proposals in the survey include increasing the length of terms from three years to four years to reduce the percentage of the Board that turns over every election cycle.

“This increases continuity of operations and consistency of direction to the superintendent and the school division,” the survey said. “It also reduces the frequency at which residents can elect new School Board members.”

The School Board is currently a nine-member board elected in three districts, but another change being considered would drop that to seven members with two representing each district and one at-large member. According to the survey:

The Board currently consists of nine members elected by three districts. Reducing the size of the board to seven members would result in two representatives from each district and one at-large member. For comparison, the Alexandria City Council has six members and a Mayor all of which are at-large representatives.

Finally, another consideration would be shifting School Board elections away from the federal and state-level election cycles — almost certainly decreasing the total number of votes in School Board elections. According to the survey:

Federal- and state-level elections typically have larger voter turnout and longer ballots. However, voters may not be informed on lower-ticket races due to the number of candidates on the ballot. Transitioning the School Board elections to match larger voter turnout elections could require increasing the terms to four years.

Staff noted in a presentation to the School Board that the change does not require approval through the General Assembly, only a change in the City Charter.

If approved, the first election under the new system would be in November 2024.

The full release from Alexandria City Public Schools is below:

The Alexandria City School Board is asking all stakeholders to participate in a survey about key issues affecting the structure of the School Board serving our community. This survey, available online in multiple languages, is open through 11:59 p.m. on April 26, 2023.

In recent months, the Board has embarked on a journey to reshape the School Board structure to better serve the needs of the school community. It has considered changes to Board member elections, including staggered terms, the length of terms and the number of Board members.

One major component that is under consideration, that will be different from what the community is accustomed to, is “staggered terms.” This is defined as an arrangement in which School Board members are elected in different years, starting and ending their terms of School Board service at different times, rather than all at the same time. Currently, all nine School Board members are elected during the same election in the same year, with their terms ending at the same time. Staggered terms would allow for members to be elected in different years, ensuring that the Board retains some of its members who have already been serving; this supports continuity and institutional knowledge. Additionally, it is easier to keep the division’s work intact while orienting new Board members to the division’s work.

The survey is available in five languages (English, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Dari.)

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