Fairfax needs to change the way it selects school board members

The “nonpartisan” rules for school board elections in Fairfax County are a hindrance rather than a help in selecting citizens willing to serve on the school board.  This label was used to help sell the idea of elected school boards. It was a classic bait and switch scheme.

Under Virginia election law, the political parties are not allowed to have primaries or conventions to select candidates for endorsement in nonpartisan races. Primaries and conventions are the only way the average voter can participate in selecting which candidates should be endorsed

It is impractical to run as an independent candidate in an election where the parties endorse candidates. So the “nonpartisan” school board elections give undue influence to the local political committees.

Some local officials have cited the ability of federal employees to run in a “nonpartisan” election as an advantage of the current system.  With every school board election, the partisan nature of the elections becomes more entrenched.

At a meeting held July 20, the Fairfax County Republican Committee selected three candidates from the six who asked for endorsement for at-large seats.  Steve Stuban, who is an employee of the Defense Department, was one of the candidates who did not receive an endorsement.

Since Stuban is covered by the Hatch Act, he was not allowed to speak at an earlier meeting where candidates presented their cases to the party members.  Erica R. Hendry of the Falls Church, VA Patch reported that Supervisor Pat Herrity said that this may have affected Stuban’s chances with committee members.

“[Not being able to speak] hurt his ability to reach out to the members, and that’s important in votes like this,” Herrity said.

Clearly the current rules are a disadvantage to federal employees interested in getting endorsements for nonpartisan races. If the “nonpartisan” label isn’t actually helpful to federal employees, what is the benefit of having this label applied to school board elections?

One way of giving a fair chance to federal employees would be returning to an appointed school board. Another way would involve changes in state laws. Surely Virginia can come up with a better set of election laws that don’t give undue influence to the local activists in the two main political parties.

(By the way, an earlier version of this article was inadvertently deleted from the website. Sorry for any inconvenience.)

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