Local Elections Dominated by School Issues – Chesapeake Edition

Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High School’s dominant football team – Tigers indeed

by James C. Sherlock

Check out closely the citizens who are running for city councils, boards of supervisors and the school boards this time of year.

The concerns of Virginians are still focused tightly on schools.

That is the definition of the stakes in school board elections, which used to be sleepy, low-turnout affairs. But no longer.

And school issues are bleeding over into city council and board of supervisor elections.

Some candidates pick a side and say what they mean to do. Others try to finesse the issues with word salads and “edspeak.”

Take Chesapeake.

Harder to finesse.

Republican and Democratic parties and the teachers union each endorse candidates.

Six of the nine school board seats in Chesapeake are up for election. There are 16 candidates. No incumbent is running.

There are similes available, but I choose not to use them.

The local Republican party has endorsed a full slate of six candidates. A Democratic party-endorsed ticket has five. And a ticket endorsed by the Chesapeake Education Association PAC has five (the Democratic ticket substituting a couple of union favorites).

The city council election also features candidates with strong or murky positions on school funding.

But there is one guy running for city council who you have to love even though he won’t get many votes….

School Board. The school board race is a big deal.

Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS) has for years outperformed its student demographics by every measure.

That division’s signature virtue has been its refreshing insistence that kids show up at school. In a typical year they will send 2,000 of their 40,000 students and their parents to J&D court with truancy charges.

Word, of course, is out.

As a result, Chesapeake schools’ overall chronic absentee rates typically have been half of those seen in demographically similar student populations. And, with the students in school, CPS SOL scores are always higher than might be predicted by those same demographics.

So, think about it.

What do you think will be the governing philosophy of a citizen running for school board on a ticket endorsed by the Democratic party?

The Democratic slate has taken no public position on attendance and truancy referrals. But if past is prologue, those elected will view everything through the prism of race and other protected classes.

They will label the court referrals as racist, because that is how progressives view the justice system itself. Court referrals for truancy are viewed in progressive circles as part of the “school to prison pipeline” — rather than effective early intervention to keep kids in school and off the streets.

That warped view of social justice has inevitably proven far more important to Democratic party and progressive school boards in Virginia than student achievement.

It cost them the governorship.

Chesapeake’s low chronic absentee rates are demonstrably the opposite of racist, as are the learning gains documented by the higher SOL scores. But if the Democratic slate wins, they will be trumped by the mandatory virtual signaling so dear to progressives.

The Democratic school board candidates would deny that they aspire to make CPS more like Richmond Public Schools. But that is where they will wind up if those candidates, once elected, are not fundamentally different in philosophy and policy than the current RPS school board majority. The candidates promise no such departure from orthodoxy.

I am not picking on Chesapeake. This same culture clash is playing out in school board elections across the state.

In a sign of the times, the local paper, a committed progressive outlet, is paying far more attention to Chesapeake school board elections than to those for its city council.

City Council. Even the city council candidates are giving their attention to schools.

Those folks have positions on public safety and who pays for recycling, a hot local issue. Tax rate reduction to mitigate the effects of inflated property values is another thread — presumably nearly everywhere in Virginia.

Unsurprisingly this year, there are in the city council races hot threads about funding for schools — and school safety.

Bottom line. Education used to be an area of broad agreement. It is no longer.

Education is the biggest game in local elections, as it was in the last statewide election.

We will see if Governor Youngkin’s victory was predictive of local results.