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Alexandria School Board to present Council with staggered terms proposal this fall

ACPS Headquarters in Alexandria (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Some big changes are coming to the Alexandria School Board.

Tonight, the Board will conduct a work session on whether to stagger the election cycle for its members, as well as reducing the number of members. There are currently nine Board members serving three-year terms in Districts A, B and C, and their elections run concurrently with City Council.

The Board has talked about staggering terms since 2016, but conversations were halted during the pandemic. Discussions resumed late last year and the Board now plans to present a resolution to City Council by the end of this year, according to information discussed in a joint work session with the Board and City Council on Monday.

“All nine members of the School Board would still be up for office and election in November 2024,” Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said. “And then whatever model would start from there, would happen in the subsequent years, whether it’s a model where in 2025 someone gets the short straw and they only have a one year term.”

City Council Member Canek Aguirre thinks that the nine-member School Board has too many members.

“Frankly, I’m not really willing to entertain this unless there’s a conversation around reduction in the size (of the Board),” Aguirre said at the work session. “I don’t see the need for it, honestly… Because Falls Church with seven people is a smaller district, Arlington is larger district. They’ve got five (members), we’ve got nine. Loudoun’s got nine — much bigger than us.”

At issue is the high level of turnover that occurs when every Board member is up for reelection at the same time. There were six new members elected in November 2021,  five new members elected in 2018, five new members in 2015 election and seven new members in 2012 election.

Changing the election cycle and/or reducing the size of the Board would take a Board resolution, approval by City Council and then a charter change with the Virginia General Assembly.

“I think the way this is probably going to go down, someone will present that action before the Council,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “At that point hopefully, a majority of the Board is speaking with one voice, and then you guys (the Board/Alexandria City Public Schools) can come in and we can have some dialogue about it and then we’ll take an action. It rolls in with our normal legislative package process, and that’s something that we do in the fall. Then we sit down and have a dialogue with the General Assembly delegation about what we’re requesting.”

A recent ACPS survey with 450 respondents found that 43% strongly agree and 31% “agree” staggered terms would improve the continuity of operations for the school division, versus 13% who strongly disagreed and 4% agreed, while 7% had no opinion and 2% didn’t know. The survey also showed that 31% of respondents strongly agree that a seven-member Board could sufficiently represent Alexandria residents, 14% agreed, 18% strongly disagreed, 16% disagreed, 16% didn’t care, and 5% didn’t know.

Some of the proposed alternatives are below:

  • 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

The Board will discuss the matter in a work session starting at 7 p.m. tonight at ACPS Central Office (1340 Braddock Place).

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