Petition gathers steam

Published 11:05 am Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Of the at least 1,289 signatures needed to get the question on the ballot in November, volunteers seeking a vote on electing Prince Edward School Board members have exceeded the halfway point.

According to Heather Edwards, a parent and member of Support Prince Edward Schools, 847 signatures, or nearly two-thirds of the total needed, had been gathered, accepted and verified by the Prince Edward voter registrar as of last week. Another 130 have been gathered and are set to be verified, she said.

The referendum, if enough signatures are gathered and a circuit court judge orders it to be on the ballot, would ask voters if school board members should be elected. They’re currently appointed by county supervisors.

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“Our goal is 1,289. We’re over halfway there, but not by much,” Edwards said. “Our goal is to get everything turned in by July 1.”

Currently, Prince Edward is one of few counties across the state where the board of supervisors appoints school board members.

“I think that there are lots of petitions out there still circulating that haven’t been turned in, and I don’t know if those are full or not full,” Edward said. “But, at this point, I think we would like to have the petitions that aren’t perhaps complete to be turned in and counted so we have a better sense of how many more we have to go.”

Support Prince Edward Schools — the group spearheading the petitions — plans on strategically canvassing specific areas of the county.

“We want to impose on ourselves a July 1 deadline because the registrar is working really hard to keep up with verifying the signatures as we turn them in, which is just so appreciated, but what we don’t want to do is give her 500 signatures on the last day,” Edwards said.

“The petition simply supports a ballot initiative,” Edwards said in a previous interview. “In my mind, this effort is not necessarily a referendum on the work that the current school board is doing.”

She said the group would like to see the selection of school board members become a more democratic process.

Last July, supporters of the elected school board option fell short of their 1,431 petition signatures need to get the question on the ballot. The petition drive was spearheaded by parent Kelly Morgan, who sought to put the issue before voters last fall.

Outgoing Buffalo District Representative and School Board Chairman Board Russell Dove previously said that, “Due to recent incidents, I have changed my opinion and now am somewhat in favor of elected school boards.”

Dove said whether the school board is elected or appointed, the right person should hold the position. “The right person with the right motives needs to be on the school board,” he said.

Edwards said signing a petition does not mean that the individual is agreeing to support the move from an appointed school board to an elected process.

A signature simply indicates that the voter supports the idea being on the ballot.

“Ideally, our community would engage in discussions about the schools — how best to support the efforts of great teachers, secure full funding of worthy initiatives and ensure strong public education in our county every fall around election time,” Edwards said.

Dr. Leigh Lunsford, a Farmville resident and Longwood University professor, said she is helping to gather signatures for the petitions.

“I do believe that the voters should decide,” Lunsford said. She said she is very pleased with the hard work and efforts of Support Prince Edward Schools.

“We’re wary though too,” Edwards said previously. “In order for an elected school board to succeed, community members have a greater responsibility to become educated on the issues.”