Marshall Keene is a man of many hats - a sheriff’s office detective, local Republican committee chairman, school board member and owner of SMART Driving School. One more duty was added Monday night when the Culpeper County School Board elected him as its new chairman.
He replaces former chair Michelle North, who cited “the pandemic, the politicization of the schools and personalities” as reasons for her premature resignation from the School Board. Also on Monday, the school board selected Deborah Desilets to fill out the remainder of North’s term.
In 14 years on the school board, Anne Luckinbill said she “never received public input about selection of the chair” until now. While appreciating the concerns voiced, she said the election of the chair is a “board function” and the board has insights the general public does not.
“And with that knowledge, I feel that Mr. Keene, despite his numerous responsibilities, is willing to dedicate the time to be an effective chair,” she said. “Mr. Keene and I have an open and honest relationship. We know where our disagreements are and we can work through them. And I believe that Marshall will do this despite his political affiliations, which are well known. I have never seen him to be political on the school board. And I fully believe he will keep that promise.”
Luckinbill, who was selected as the vice-chair, said she has long believed that the school board should be apolitical and “that is not changing for me.”
“This was not a reckless decision, this was not without thought, I believe Marshall will do a good job and I will help him as vice-chair to do that,” she said.
Board member Pat Baker said she has also “heard from more people than I ever thought I would hear from in the past two days about the position of our board chair.”
“I would ask the school community’s grace to allow Mr. Keene an opportunity to carry out the duties of his newly elected position. We all know politics have been too prevalent in all aspects of our lives. This is not specific just to our school board but it is also not a reasonable response to ignore someone because he or she is a Republican rather than a Democrat,” she said.
Baker added that political ideology should not and can not drive a non-partisan school board’s agenda.
“Our mission is and shall remain the education of our students,” she said.
Baker added that a board chairman has no special power other than calling a special meeting, “but he or she can’t make anyone show up.” She added the school board is a “policy board” and the chair does not create, write or influence policy.
“A chair makes sure we follow all policy. All Culpeper County policies are based on equity and anti-discriminatory practices. Our goal is a free, appropriate, quality education for every single student. With tonight’s vote, nothing has changed. We are a strong board. Together we will get beyond national politics and a deadly virus,” she said.
Board member Barbara Brown expressed concerns that Keene has “too many irons in the fire.” Those concerns, she added, have nothing to do with his work ethic or dedication to the job.
Hopefully, Brown said her concerns are misplaced and the school board will work as a unit for the best of the school system and community.
“Hopefully under his leadership we will see a more inclusive board that wants to hear other opinions over than just seeing that they have the four votes needed for whatever the four want,” she said.
Brown also said she is wishing for Keene’s “great success” because he is a key component to the school board’s success this year.
After other school board members spoke, Keene said "I guess the spotlight is on me since everything is about me during board comments, right?"
“I apologize to each of you for not abandoning my principles or my morals or my political affiliation but I apologize to you for what you are going through personally and professionally because of my political affiliation,” Keene said.
Keene added that his political beliefs are what he lives by “and I will always look in the mirror every morning and know that I stand up for what I believe in.”