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School Board 2.0

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Just when it seemed that Richmond needed no more troubles with its elected officials, Paul Goldman is suggesting the addition of nine more nuts to the party mix.

"There's nothing in the [Virginia] constitution that says Richmond can't have two school boards — why would that not be a useful way to go?" asks Goldman, Mayor Doug Wilder's former policy adviser, who recently tried sharing his creative solutions with the existing School Board. "It's clear to me that this School Board is overwhelmed."

As the state constitution has it, the General Assembly tasks the State Board of Education with creating school districts that best get the job done, Goldman says, and in Richmond that job arguably is not getting done. So his would be a simple — though possibly two-part — solution.

First, the General Assembly would remove laws that might give the Richmond School Board authority to say no to a second board. Second, the Board of Education could redraw district lines to create two school districts within Richmond.

The point would be to place schools that have the biggest troubles — the ones in need of the most radical and speedy solutions — within this second district. Its school board — either elected or appointed, to be determined by voters, Goldman says — would comprise members willing to act rather than talk.

But you know what they say about things that sound good in theory …

"This is based on the assumption that school boards actually make things better," says Lisa Dawson, vice chairman of the Richmond School Board. "I'm not arguing that we might need more resources … but another school board?

"If anything, what you'd need was another little emergency administration," Dawson says, noting the additional expense of salaries involved, but conceding that it would be more likely to address Goldman's concerns.

"More people pointing out that we have a problem — and that that problem should be a top priority — doesn't seem to me to be a particularly useful allocation of resources," she says. "What we need is more people fixing the problem."

Goldman stands by his idea of letting a new batch of creative elected officials wade into the problem.

"It doesn't do a kid any good to say by the year 2020 we'll have this thing sorted out," Goldman says of the current School Board. "And there's a lot of people who say they can do it better, right? Well, let's give them an opportunity.

"What I'm trying to do is show that this idea that we're constitutionally hamstrung and there's nothing else we can do is not true," Goldman says. "All we have to do is tell the General Assembly that this is what we want them to do and they will do it."

Meanwhile, School Board officials suggest any path to a solution for city schools would be better than the political blackmail being used by the mayor's office. School administration last week received notice from the city's Department of Public Works that it was behind payment on its electric bill and faced termination of its service.

According to a schools source, only a call to the city's acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black averted darkened school buildings. S

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