2017 Model General Assembly 8

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) makes a point as he discusses proposed legislation with students at the Dec. 8, 2017, Model General Assembly forum.

Arlington’s elected School Board is another legislative step closer to being absolutely, positively, for-sure legal under state law.

The state Senate on Feb. 26 voted unanimously in support of a bill patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) adding a to the Code of Virginia and permitting the county to have an elected School Board.

Arlington has been electing its School Board members for nearly the past quarter-century, but when the state government in the 1990s authorized elected school boards, it neglected to include the language in the portion of the state code dealing specifically with Arlington.

“This was just a clean-up bill to make sure the portion of the Code pertaining to Arlington – with the county-manager plan of government – properly reflects current practice,” Hope said after the measure passed and was sent to the desk of Gov. Northam.

Whether the bill is absolutely needed is open to some debate; Arlington school officials at the start of the General Assembly session said elections already are covered under other portions of the Code of Virginia. But the Division of Legislative Services suggested that the measure was needed, just to make sure.

The measure drew limited notice and debate in Richmond. The House of Delegates – not known as a bastion of friendliness to Arlington interests – voted 99-0 earlier in the session to approve the bill and send it over to the Senate.

The state constitution delegates to the legislature the power to determine how School Board members are selected. From 1947-56, Arlington (alone among Virginia’s localities) had the power to have an elected, rather than appointed, School Board.

That power was stripped from Arlington during the height of the state government’s battle against court-ordered integration, and while there were efforts made in the 1980s to get the county back its power to elect a School Board, Arlington did not win it back until the legislature agreed to allow elected boards statewide in the early 1990s. In Arlington’s first School Board election under that authority, Mary Hynes was elected in 1994.

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