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Charlottesville School Board candidates discuss reconfiguration project during forum

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 12:20 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - When thousands of Charlottesville voters go to the polls in a few weeks, they will have some important decisions to make. This includes picking 3 of 5 school board members on the ballot.

Thursday, those five candidates shared their vision during a virtual town hall. They touched on several topics -- from equity, to staffing help, to teacher pay and wellness. But amidst the wide-ranging conversation was a dialogue about one of the more critical issues they hope to tackle: the $100 million school reconfiguration plan.

Each of the candidates had a chance to pitch themselves as the best person to move the pricy project forward. They all support it, and are excited about it.

Current School Board Chair Lisa Larson-Torres, who is running for re-election, said she can finish the job because of all the work she has already done.

“It’s really exciting that we’ve gotten to this point and we need to keep the momentum going,” she said. “I think I have proven leadership in doing that, proven experience in doing that.”

The other incumbent, Leah Puryear, highlighted the importance of engaging her constituents if taxes need to be raised to help pay for the project.

“If we are required to raise real estate taxes, we will have education sessions explaining to everyone exactly what that means,” she said.

Of the three first-time candidates, Dom Morse said the physical buildings are just the beginning.

“We need to continue to think about the models of instruction,” Morse said. “Having student voice and student choice within our curriculum, allowing our students to explore their interests, their passions, their values, their identity”

Former middle school principal Emily Dooley says her day job as a realtor can be an asset.

“I think I’m uniquely positioned, both as an educator but as a realtor as well, to advocate for the importance of this investment,” she said. “I believe strongly the quality of our schools matters, regardless of whether you have a student or not.”

Christa Bennett, who is largely responsible for building a playground at Walker Upper Elementary, says her experience advocating for that project can assist in the reconfiguration project.

“You’re going to need community organizing experience and experience with legislative advocacy, because we are going to have to get city council, general assembly, and our Charlottesville neighbors to vote for a tax increase,” she said.

There was also overwhelming support among the five candidates for the environment that new Superintendent Royal Gurley is creating within Charlottesville City Schools. They each say they hope that come 2022, they’ll be able to work alongside him.

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