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McDonnell 'Very Disappointed' With Suit Challenging School Takeover Law

Virginia Governor says he will use outside counsel to defend state in Opportunity Educational Institution lawsuit.

Gov. Bob McDonnell at T.C. Williams High School, Aug. 15, 2013. | Photo credit: Drew Hansen
Gov. Bob McDonnell at T.C. Williams High School, Aug. 15, 2013. | Photo credit: Drew Hansen

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is “very disappointed” the Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk City School Board are pursuing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of his school takeover law.

McDonnell, who was in Alexandria Friday morning for the Virginia Innovation Partnership’s “Virginia Ventures Forum” at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said he plans to continue pursuing the establishment of the Opportunity Educational Institution despite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s refusal to defend the state in a lawsuit involving OEI this week.

“I’m very disappointed school boards are litigating this mater when they should be focused toward improving these schools,” McDonnell said in a conversation with reporters following his remarks at the forum. “The status quo of failing schools is over. I’ve made educational reform a top priority and OEI is a tough love measure. The legislation targets four schools in places we can least afford to have these struggles, including one here in Alexandria.”

The governor-created 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.

The school takeover bill became law in July, but the personnel to institute its measures have yet to be appointed or hired.

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

“With OEI, we can appreciate the effort to focus on struggling schools,” Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf said at an Aug. 15 forum at T.C. Williams High School with McDonnell. “But we feel as written it does not collaborate with the local school district.”

The Alexandria School Board was close to pursuing a lawsuit of its own against the OEI legislation.

In a June 23 profile of Jefferson-Houston in The Washington Post, District A School Board member Bill Campbell said  Alexandria should use everything in its power to prevent state takeover, including challenging the constitutionality of the law that created the OEI.   

In a short letter to McDonnell dated Aug. 27, Cuccinelli wrote that his office cannot defend the state in a lawsuit after analyzing the “constitutional issues involved” in the case.

McDonnell, a former state attorney general, said it’s not uncommon for the attorney general’s office to make such refusals and that he plans on bringing in outside counsel.

“I disagree with the attorney general,” he said. “The General Assembly disagreed because they passed the law.”

McDonnell said Virginia has a constitutional obligation to provide high-quality, free education to its residents.

“It’s a civil rights issue of our time, the right to great schools and education,” McDonnell said. “We need to make sure it’s enforced."

The VSBA and Norfolk School Board are claiming the OEI violates the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The OEI is not a school board and falls under Title 23 of the Code of Virginia, which relates to institutions of higher education and not K-12, both groups argue.

The groups also claim the legislation is unconstitutional because it gives the General Assembly the authority to create a statewide school division, while the constitution provides that only the State Board of Education can create school divisions.

suzanne September 06, 2013 at 01:49 PM
By all accounts, it is time for Gov. McDonnell to give up on OEI. He appears to have a great record with Virginia wine and tourism. It would do him well to focus on these two areas until the end of his term.
McBrinn September 06, 2013 at 03:54 PM
He's just upset his wife didn't get a designer handbag out of the deal...
NoBS September 06, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Outside counsel? How much is in the state budget for that? Why should we taxpayers have to pay for outside counsel just to defend a law we don't want because the attorney general won't do his job? Doesn't McDonnell have other "outside counsel" costs to worry about right now? Just resign already and go away.
oldtowner September 06, 2013 at 09:21 PM
another example of Cuccinelli trying to distance himself from McDonnell....altho he also accepted gifts from Jonnie W. at Star Scientific.....agree w/ Gail about use of outside counsel.....duh.....too bad the Gen Assembly didn't think about constitutional issues before they passed this law
Christine Ogden September 07, 2013 at 10:45 AM
I think we all agree that something needs to be done with Jefferson-Houston. ACPS needs to step up! They should be ashamed of themselves!!
Kim Moore September 07, 2013 at 10:47 PM
I am curious to know how many of the posters on this topic are parents whose kids attend ACPS schools. No harm/foul/support, just wondering.
McBrinn September 08, 2013 at 08:07 AM
I'm father to 4 ACPS students grades K- 6th.
oldtowner September 08, 2013 at 07:01 PM
Kim, I have 2 children who attended ACPS and graduated from TC...our schools have many issues but many challenges too. But this issue is bigger than just ACPS
NoBS September 09, 2013 at 06:52 AM
My only child attended ACPS elementary, middle, 9th grade and 1 1/2 years at TC, then graduated from a private high school and is in college now. Those of us who post here on issues relating to TCW and ACPS in general are generally people who have or had kids there and know the workings of ACPS intimately. Otherwise, we wouldn't care as much.
Christine Ogden September 09, 2013 at 07:34 AM
I have three children who have graduated from TCW. I also have a son, who has learning disabilities. We pulled him out of Jefferson-Houston in 8th grade and sent him to a private school,,,not a school for kids with learning differences...just a typical private school. At the time we pulled him out, he was in 8th grade, reading on the 3rd grade level. He is now in 10th grade, reading on level and on the B Honor Roll. He is taking typical classes. Jefferson-Houston and ACPS failed him miserably. We had to step in, without support from ACPS, and pick up the pieces.
NoBS September 09, 2013 at 10:51 AM
We tool our child out of TC because of bullying and other issues with the administration and put her in a private high school. It was the best thing we ever did for her. I hope TCW and all of the ACPS schools improve now that Sherman is gone but it's going to take a while to clean up the mess. In the meantime, I cannot in good conscience recommend ACPS schools. I really wish I could, but I can't.
Kyrah Drasheff September 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM
I taught at Jefferson Houston for five years before Tucker was built. At that time, the school population for JH was quite different. When Tucker was opened, it took most of the population of Jefferson Houston. The School became an arts focus school, otherwise known as a magnet school, in other districts. It would have succeeded I believe, but it didn't have the leadership it needed, and certain people at Central Office, after Herb Berg, never bought into the idea that arts and academics could successfully be integrated. All of this came about, from what I understand, as a result of the district lines being redrawn, back then, so that JH drew mostly from lower socio-economic neighborhoods. I believe that is a big part of the problem now. The teachers I knew were quite dedicated and good. Wonder what McDonnell thinks he can do that hasn't been tried over the past ten years?

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