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Richmond School Board Members Criticize Sturtevant Rezoning Pitch

Richmond school board members say Sturtevant's rezoning pitch is unwelcome.
Richmond school board members say Sturtevant's rezoning pitch is unwelcome. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

On the first day of school Tuesday in Richmond, campaign workers for Virginia Senator Glen Sturtevant handed out petitions outside Mary Munford and Fox Elementary. The headline: “Save Our Neighborhood Schools.”

“As a former member of the Richmond City School Board, State Senator Glen Sturtevant strongly opposes the re-zoning of Mary Munford Elementary and Fox Elementary,” the petition read. 

It goes on to say that he’s proposing legislation that would require an intervening school board election or referendum to take place before a new re-zoning plan can go into effect. His office also sent out a press release announcing his plans Tuesday morning. They did not respond to questions and VPM’s request for comment.

Any new legislation couldn’t be introduced until next January when the General Assembly reconvenes for its regular session. Meanwhile, the Richmond school board plans to vote on final rezoning maps by the end of December. Dawn Page, the district’s school board chair, said Sturtevant is playing politics with the city’s children. 

“We plan to complete this comprehensive plan versus shirking the responsibilities to another governing body,” said Page.

Other school board members also say the move was inappropriate. School board member Scott Barlow says Sturtevant is overstepping his bounds. 

“It feels like a bit of an overreach,” Barlow said. “An elected school board has a responsibility for redistricting and rezoning the schools when necessary and those types of decisions should be made on the local level because we are in a better position to determine what the needs are for our schools.”

Charles Pyle, director of media relations for Virginia’s Department of Education, said he’s not sure if there’s any precedent for a voter referendum - or even talk of one - during other Virginia district rezoning discussions. 

“There’s no precedent for anything like this that I’m aware of,” said school board member Kenya Gibson. She criticized Sturtevant’s petition for saying “no member of the School Board campaigned on re-zoning.”

“That’s what we’re elected to do,” said Gibson. “So the notion that nobody ran on rezoning, that doesn’t make sense. That’s what you elect a school board to do.”

She’s also concerned that Sturtevant’s involvement will further politicize an already complicated topic the district is working through. 

“It seems somewhat exploitative to leverage the anxiety that families are feeling as it pertains to rezoning to help a campaign,” Gibson said. “It’s certainly not productive to help the district get work done that it ultimately needs to get done.”

School board vice chair Liz Doerr also sees Sturtevant’s announcement as a political stunt, designed to drum up support for his campaign. 

I felt that his approach was, one, inappropriate for the first day of school,” Doerr said. “Parents wanted to send their kids to school and have a joyful day, not be greeted by protestors and cops.”

She hopes Sturtevant’s petition doesn’t add to confusion about the district’s timeline for approving rezoning maps, as well as the number of proposals the district is still considering.