School Board restructuring plan is ‘dead’ as-is, says Alexandria City Council Member

ACPS headquarters and clock (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Alexandria School Board’s preferred options to restructure itself are “dead” as-is, mostly due to a lack of engagement with the Alexandria City Council, City Council Member John Taylor Chapman told members of the School Board on Monday night.

“I think you’re losing Council by not really engaging with them right now,” Chapman told the City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting Monday night. “Given the response I’ve seen from my colleagues, I think you have even more of an uphill battle than you had before, and that’s not a good thing if this is supposed to be a process that’s collaborative.”

Earlier this month, the Board started evaluating restructuring options, including increasing term lengths from three to four years, reducing the number of School Board members — there are nine covering three districts — and whether there should be at-large seats.

The Board, in a work session, whittled down their preferred restructuring alternatives to three options, all of which increase terms to four years, maintain the nine-member structure and stagger their elections starting in 2027.

In order to enact these changes, the School Board must approve a resolution, followed by a City Council public hearing to revise the city charter. If the charter change is approved, the Virginia General Assembly will then vote on making the change official in the Virginia Charter.

Mayor Justin Wilson said Chapman summed up the Council’s feelings on the matter.

“I think Councilman Chapman read the tea leaves correctly about where we’re at right now,” Wilson said.

Chapman said that Board Members need to work one-on-one with their City Council counterparts to gain consensus before a plan is officially offered.

“I think that there are some overarching impacts to voters in our city,” he said. “And I think Council is keenly aware of that and we need to make sure that School Board is keenly aware of that as well. Unless those conversations happen one-on-one, I’m not sure everyone will feel comfortable that that is fully understood.”

School Board Chair Michelle Rief said that Chapman’s suggestion is “wonderful.”

“(The process) has been a little muddled, but here we are,” Rief said. “I think we do want to engage with you.”

The nine-member School Board has been elected in concurrent three-year cycles coinciding with City Council elections since 2012. The Board’s high turnover after the Nov. 2021 election saw six new members joining three incumbents, and members say school leadership suffers when more than half of the body spends upward of a year getting accustomed to their offices.

City Council Member Canek Aguirre didn’t mince words at a town hall meeting when he said that the School Board has too many members for a district with about 15,000 students.

“I’ve been very clear with my School Board colleagues that I am not supportive of changes unless they’re willing to reduce the number of members on their board,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said other jurisdictions have either small boards with similar student populations or larger boards with larger numbers of students.

“Arlington County, which has about twice the size of our student population, has five members,” Aguirre said. “Loudoun County, which I believe has around nine members, has like three or four times the number of students that we have. To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous that we have nine people on there and this is part of what leads to so much discontinuity.”

The School Board members and their City Council liaisons are below.

District A

  • Board Chair Michelle Rief — Mayor Justin Wilson
  • Board Member Jacinta Greene — Council Member Canek Aguirre
  • Board Member Willie Bailey — Council Member Canek Aguirre

District B

  • Vice Chair Kelly Carmichael Booz — Vice Mayor Amy Jackson
  • Board Member Tammy Ignacio — Council Member John Taylor Chapman
  • Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird — Council Member Sarah Bagley

District C

  • Board Member Meagan Alderton — Council Member Sarah Bagley
  • Board Member Christopher Harris — Council Member Alyia Gaskins
  • Board Member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi — Council Member Kirk McPike