The Henrico County School Board met in a closed-door work session on Thursday, October 4 to make their final choice to fill the Tuckahoe District seat vacated when Lisa Marshall resigned in August for health reasons. In an obvious partisan compromise, the Board ultimately chose the least visible and only male of the three finalists, retired principal Bill Pike, despite the fact that finalist Melissa Dart, a member of the county’s Special Education Advisory Committee and ex-officio member of the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, received 167 emails of support, to Pike’s 6. Dart is also a member of the Special Education Work Group that was formed on the recommendation of a study conducted by former Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton.
The School Board held a public forum on September 20 to solicit input on behalf of the candidates. Bill Pike was traveling and unable to attend, but Melissa Dart and the third finalist, blogger and former teacher Marcie Shea, were present, each with their own entourage of roughly two dozen supporters. Both Melissa and Marcie had about 10 – 12 supporters each speak on their behalf. Only two audience members spoke in support of Bill.
“The School Board is here this afternoon to hear from you: our community and constituents,” School Board Chair Micky Ogburn said at the beginning of the hearing. “The information gathered will be vital in helping us make a decision.” Not so vital, as it turns out.
Below are the numbers of emails that came into the “schoolboard” group email address per the instructions published by the School Board, or to the Board Clerk, directly. Emails to the clerk were then forwarded to the full Board, according to spokesperson Andy Jenks. These numbers do not include calls or emails directly to individual School Board members. The FoIA request for the content of the emails was denied since they are considered part of personnel records.
Melissa Dart – 167
Marcie Shea – 76
Bill Pike – 6
While state law prohibits School Board candidates from being listed with a party designation on a ballot, affiliations of sitting members and candidates are typically no secret based on endorsements received, other public support, and their stated positions. Melissa was the Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 56th District in 2017. Marcie has received vocal support for her School Board candidacy from within the Western Henrico Tea Party. Both Melissa and Marcie have stated they do plan to run for this School Board seat in the 2019 election. Bill has been quoted in the press as saying it is too early to tell if he will run.
Without Lisa Marshall, the makeup of the School Board is two Democrats and two Republicans. Faced with an apparent partisan deadlock, the decision was made behind closed doors to compromise and give the interim seat to Bill Pike, despite the fact that Melissa Dart received overwhelmingly greater support from the community than either of the other two finalists.
Others have also expressed concern about the transparency of the selection process, which rejected 8 candidates including former School Board member Stuart Myers, who represented the Tuckahoe District prior to Lisa Marshall. The timing has also raised eyebrows, since the resignation would have triggered a special election in this year’s highly-contested November 6 general election if it had come a few weeks earlier.
In a week when a flawed Supreme Court selection process highlighted the country’s patriarchal chokehold, this was a particularly tone-deaf decision on the part of the Henrico County School Board.
All the School Board seats are up for grabs in November 2019.