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Two Virginia Localities Buck the Tide, Vote To Keep Appointed School Boards

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Two Virginia localities turned their thumbs down this month on an option to elect school board members in favor of keeping the old system of appointing their boards.

Voters in Hanover County and the independent Salem district joined Danville as the only three localities in the state that have spurned elected school boards.

Virginia was the last state in the country to have only appointed school boards. In 1991, the General Assembly allowed citizens to choose elected boards.

'No Need To Interfere'

Since then, the vast majority of localities have switched to elected boards. In this month's election, 16 Virginia counties decided to change from appointed to elected school committees, bringing the statewide total to 96.

Residents in both Hanover County and Salem said their choice to stick with appointed representatives reflects the accomplishments of their school systems.

"We have a quality school system that is doing an excellent job of producing well-educated young people," said Dorothy Schrag, the chairman of the school board in Hanover County, which is north of Richmond. The county government will continue to appoint Hanover's board.

Robert Bailie, the leader of the Committee to Keep Appointed School Boards in Hanover, felt so strongly about the issue that he paid for newspaper advertisements and sent mailings to residents to urge them to preserve the current system.

"We have got a group out here in the school system that's just extraordinary, and that's one of the primary reasons we don't want an elected school board," he said.

Mr. Bailie believed that elected school boards--which would have taxing authority--would become more politicized.

In Salem, in southwestern Virginia, William Sinkler, a school board member, said the decision to spurn elected boards was mostly a reflection of the town's independent, conservative bent.

But Frank Barnham, the executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association, said the campaigns were successful primarily because they had organized opposition.

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