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Boot Entire School Board, School Board Member Says


Most members of the Richmond School Board have at one point or another accused fellow board member Keith West of not putting on the team jersey when public criticism of the school system arises.

If any of his peers lacked proof that West has no interest in joining the team, here it is.

West, who already has called openly for a cleaning of the School Board's elected house, is now actively recruiting candidates to challenge all current members.

"There has been such a number of colossal failures over the years, the only reasonable thing to do is put a new group in place," says West, who has said he's not likely to run again for his own post. He calls his Web site "a long overdue effort to recruit qualified people to be on the Richmond School Board."

West says he's using the Web site as a way to begin recruiting qualified opposition in November. He says his open casting call is non-partisan, noting that "competence at this point doesn't belong to any political party, and what we need at this point is competence."

His grassroots effort is not simply himself acting in the vacuum of cyberspace. "I think if we pull together the right people, there will be money in place" to fund campaigns, says West.

And should his fellow board members cry foul at his attempts to plot against their own reelection bids, West has an easy answer: Most current board members, he says, were recruited, too -- by schools administration officials in search of characters sympathetic to their needs.

"In the past the way it works is … they're handpicked by schools administration," he says, pointing to current Chairman George Braxton, who is the son-in-law of a recently retired top-level schools administrator. Other current board members also have ties to the administration, he says.

And in a time where change is needed, it won't likely come if the organization in need of the change gets to handpick the elected leaders who are supposed to lead the charge.

"What [the process] ends up doing is stacking the School Board in favor of the status quo," says West, calling his continued failure inevitable under that system. "What the School Board does is it tries to cover up the failures." As proof he points to the board's Monday meeting where some members tried to downplay the recently released -- and highly critical -- audit of schools.

The report should have been a smoke alarm, West says, but instead some board members mistook it for an alarm clock and advocated hitting the snooze button.

After long debate, the School Board eventually voted for a measure put forward by the board member Carol A.O. Wolf. That measure charges a board committee to examine the audit's findings and determine potentially illegal activity that should be reported to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office for investigation.

Even with that decision -- and with the audit providing vindication of his own stinging criticisms of the school system -- West says it's too little, too late.

"I consider that my efforts at change have failed [as a School Board member]," he says. "At this point I'm part of the problem -- I've done everything I possibly could, but it hasn't been enough."

Which is why, he says, voters should be given every opportunity in November to clean house: "People are out for serious change. They want accountability."

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