Leave school politics to voters

Published 7:06 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

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Voters this fall will have an authoritative say on the direction of Isle of Wight County Schools, especially regarding its hotly debated equity and inclusion efforts. County supervisors should await the outcome of those School Board elections and resist what seems to be a continuing itch to punish the current board and administration by inflicting financial pain on the school division.

Eight months after a couple of supervisors briefly threatened to deny essential additional funds for a new Hardy Elementary School, the board was back at it in May by voting to “set aside” a big chunk of the school division’s fiscal 2022-23 budget amid a grilling of retiring Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton about Critical Race Theory.

School officials pushed back, convincing supervisors to restore roughly half of the $1.5 million that was to be withheld. We commend them for doing so.

Supervisors had been vague about the reason for the $1.5 million reduction, a couple of them mentioning uncertainty about state funding for public schools, though the elephant in the room was ongoing citizen concern over IWCS’ equity and inclusion efforts. At one meeting Supervisor Don Rosie asked Thornton to state his “position on diversity, inclusion and equity” and whether he believed such a focus was in keeping with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order on the topic. Rosie then suggested the supervisors could increase the school system’s budget “as it aligns itself with state policies and directives.”

Thornton countered, “These citizens have a right to their viewpoint, but our teachers are teaching the Virginia Standards of Learning, not CRT, and his reasons are all about politics,” Rosie was one of the two supervisors who had threatened, for similar reasons, to reconsider funding Hardy Elementary’s construction in September.

We respect parental concerns that the schools’ equity push could go too far, but an advantage of an elected school board like Isle of Wight’s is direct accountability to parents and other citizens. CRT opponent John Collick Jr. won the Carrsville-area seat on the School Board last fall, and two more seats will be on the ballot this November. We expect voters for whom equity and inclusion is an important consideration to have distinct choices on the ballot. Prominent CRT opponent Jason Maresh has already qualified to run for the Windsor-area seat.

As we said last fall when Hardy construction funding was being questioned, county supervisors should stay out of the way and let the democratic process play out. Using school funding as a weapon in the political tug of war over equity and inclusion is a disservice to children who simply want to get a good education.

We commend the Board of Supervisors for reconsidering the budget cut and continuing its important investment in public education.