Eight of the 14 school board seats in Charlottesville and Albemarle are up for election this November.
As of April 9, none of those races will be contested; only three incumbents have said they will run, and no new candidates have filed paperwork.
“All politics is local, and the actual candidates shape the debate, so it’s beneficial to have diverse perspectives and policies on the table,” said Nikkì Franklin, co-president of the Charlottesville Education Association.
School board members are the “driving force” behind issues like teacher working conditions and student learning conditions, Franklin said.
“So it’s important to have a large pool talking about those issues…and how they would prioritize those issues,” she added.
In Albemarle, seats held by Steve Koleszar, Jason Buyaki, Ned Gallaway and Barbara Massie Mouly are up for election. Albemarle’s board has seven members, six of whom represent magisterial districts. One seat is elected at-large, and each member is elected to a four-year term.
Both Koleszar and Buyaki have announced their intentions to run again.
“When elections occur without opposition,
we worry that incumbents can become
complacent and less responsive to the
needs of their constituents,” Saxon said.
Koleszar, who represents the Scottsville District, is seeking his sixth term, while Buyaki, who represents the Rivanna District, is seeking his second full term.
Ned Gallaway, the board’s at-large member and chair, is still undecided.
“I will make a decision — to run or to not run — public after the school division budget is final,” Gallaway said. “I am not prepared to suggest my intentions to run or not run at this point in time.”
Barbara Massie Mouly, the White Hall representative, told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an email that she is also undecided.
In Charlottesville, seats currently held by Jennifer McKeever, Colette Blount, Willa Neale and Amy Laufer are up for election. Charlottesville also has a seven-member board, but all candidates run at large rather than representing a specific area of the city.
Amy Laufer, who currently serves as chair, is the only Charlottesville School Board member who has said that she plans to run again.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the people on the board and I feel like we’ve made some progress on issues that I think are important and that the community thinks are important,” Laufer said, citing an enhanced summer program, ideas for a division-wide program aimed at improving grade-level reading and the new instructional coaching model as examples.
Both McKeever and Blount, however, are on the fence.
“I took a petition [to qualify for the ballot] in the event that I would run again,” McKeever said. “I might run…I just feel like I need to make sure that I have the time to do it, because campaigning is a big job.”
“I’m undecided,” Blount said. “There isn’t a clear yes or no.”
Neale said that she does not plan to seek a second term.
“I enjoyed my time on the board,” Neale said, “but it takes a significant amount of time to be an effective school board member.
“And having a fresh set of eyes in there will be a good thing,” she added.
In 2013, all of the six seats up for election between the two localities saw uncontested races. Neale, however, pointed to the “very competitive” 2011 Charlottesville election, when seven candidates ran for four seats.
“There was more of an opportunity for debate and conversation to see where people stood,” Neale said. “I think that’s preferable, so I hope people step forward.”
Bekah Saxon, director of Blue Ridge UniServ — an organization that supports local education associations — said a community’s interests are best served by a “robust and diverse slate of candidates.”
“When elections occur without opposition, we worry that incumbents can become complacent and less responsive to the needs of their constituents,” Saxon said.
To run for school board, potential candidates must live in the district and produce 125 petition signatures from voters in their district. All candidates run as independents in non-partisan races, though local political parties in Albemarle have endorsed candidates in previous elections.
Candidates must submit their paperwork by June 9.
Franklin — who characterized the school board as a “civic duty” — said the Charlottesville Education Association is looking forward to candidate announcements.
“We have endorsed candidates in the past, and are ready to be part of the process again once we know who they are,” Franklin said. “We want to endorse friends of education.
“We are devoted to the mission statement of Charlottesville City Schools,” she added, “and we consider ourselves on the same team.”