McDonnell Singles Out Alexandria, School Takeover Law in State of the Commonwealth Address

Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf "disappointed" with Gov. Bob McDonnell's remarks.

Gov. Bob McDonnell. (Patch file photo)
Gov. Bob McDonnell. (Patch file photo)

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) singled out Alexandria City Public Schools during his final State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night in Richmond.

During his remarks, McDonnell asked his school takeover legislation be allowed to show what it can do for underperforming schools in Virginia, including Jefferson-Houston School in Alexandria. 

McDonnell’s Opportunity Educational Institution bill, which the General Assembly enacted in its 2013 session, requires any school that has been denied accreditation or has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years to be transferred to the control of an OEI board.

Members of the Alexandria City School Board have expressed opposition to the OEI legislation because they want to maintain local control of Jefferson-Houston, which has lost accreditation.

The law’s constitutionality is being challenged in court.

Last month, McDonnell suggested putting $600,000 each of the next two years into the OEI as part of his two-year budget proposal. He exits the Executive Mansion on Saturday when Democrat Terry McAuliffe is scheduled to take the oath of office.

“We have taken a tough love, zero tolerance approach to chronically underperforming schools by creating the Opportunity Educational Institution, allowing the state the authority to turnaround and manage failing schools,” McDonnell said during his speech. “Del. [Algie] Howell is right, this is the civil rights issue of our day. In the eighth most prosperous state in the nation, how can we tolerate a single child going to failing school in Virginia? As I leave office, I implore you to let OEI demonstrate that it will help those non-performing schools in Petersburg and Norfolk and Alexandria and other schools on the line. Knowing some children aren’t getting the same education as other kids just one school district away is just not right. The time for excuses is over. It’s time for excellence for all our students.” 

Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf said she was frustrated McDonnell singled out the cities currently affected by OEI. She remains “completely against” the OEI law.  

“I am disappointed that the Governor would name localities instead of realizing this problem of children struggling is a problem across the commonwealth and not just specific schools,” Graf said. “I will be working hard this session of the General Assembly to repeal, defund or modify OEI so it’s actually helping students.”

McDonnell visited T.C. Williams High School in August to discuss the school takeover law with Mayor Bill Euille and members of the school board.

“I’m here to collaborate [with the Alexandria school board],” McDonnell said at the time. “We need to find out how we make this work best.”

Graf said McDonnell’s remarks on Wednesday go against that sentiment.

“When he came here, he said he wanted to collaborate with us,” Graf said. "What he said isn't collaborative at all."

NoBS January 09, 2014 at 11:20 AM
OEI probably won't hold up in court but that doesn't mean it's a completely bad idea. A state takeover of failing schools probably won't hold up under the Virginia constitution so the answer is for citizens in each jurisdiction to step up and hold their school boards and school administrations accountable. Write and call your school board reps and urge them to pressure the acting superintendent to clean up the administration at ACPS. The school board can only hire and fire the superintendent. The superintendent can hire and fire all those over paid administrators.
Gina Baum January 09, 2014 at 06:15 PM
And I implore Gov. McDonnell to get a clue! This takeover is ridiculous and Gov McDonnell is well outside his knowledge of Jefferson Houston. The school currently meets standards to be accredited, but his legislation is actually blocking the school being accredited. He has used this school, erroneously, as a soap box. It is clear he has no idea what is going on at the school or that the school actually out performs other middle schools in our area. Math scores rose 56%. In 8th grade, the students averaged 89% test scores in Algebra. This is obviously his political agenda against a community not likely to support him and its leaders who have put forth so much effort to turn this school around. Time for McDonnell to leave office, leave Jeff-Houston alone, and leave the locals municipality to continue their positive efforts on behalf of this school.
Del Ray guy January 09, 2014 at 07:30 PM
State is not going to take over the school. McAuliffe won't touch it. That is the point. The school board should be focused on superintendent search and doing something about the underperforming schools -not just Jefferson Houston which seems to be heading in a good direction- achievement gap, and the infrastructure and over crowding, etc. The entire district has issues. Some bright spots but for most Alexandria residents not great choices, which is why the privates and parochial schools in city have huge turn outs at open houses and folks move out of the city at different points.
Larry McDorchester January 09, 2014 at 09:21 PM
I agree with Del Ray Guy - - especially his first point. We ought to give charter schools a chance in Alexandria. DC moved too quickly with them 15 years ago - but now a good process is in place there that only allows those with a good plan and a great board to get chartered and operate. Alexandria, indeed all of NoVa, should not set up so many obstacles to the potential for real school choice.
Dave January 11, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Shame on McDonnell!!!!! ACPS does a lot of things right. One of them is securing strong long-term revenue for St. Stephen and St. Agnes. Another is the ability to make families move out of the city when their kids are about to enter school.


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