Chris Meyer, the director of a local nonprofit and a parent, wants to make sure the Charlottesville school division works for his children, their peers and the rest of the city.
That’s why he’s running for the School Board, he said. His top priorities are ensuring a timely implementation of the proposed middle school reconfiguration, improving after-school care and boosting teacher pay.
He held a launch party for his campaign last week at Three Notch’d Brewing.
Four at-large seats will be on the ballot in November. Jennifer McKeever, Sherry Kraft and James Bryant are seeking re-election. Lashundra Bryson Morsberger and Meyer round out the field of five. All candidates for school boards in Virginia run as independents.
Meyer’s son started in Charlottesville schools last year and is now a first-grader at Jackson-Via Elementary. The family moved to the city about two years ago from the Washington, D.C., area.
“As a parent, I would say that the challenges of the school system have become very apparent,” Meyer said.
In conversations with parents, he said a key concern has been middle school.
In Charlottesville, fifth and sixth grade is housed at Walker Upper Elementary School while seventh and eighth grade is at Buford Middle School. This setup has existed since 1988, but school officials are planning a reconfiguration that would add sixth grade to Buford, send fifth grade to the elementary schools and centralize preschool at Walker.
Meyer said this plan is important to ensuring educational quality for all children, and he wants to see equity prioritized during the reconfiguration. The proposal has been discussed and planned several times over the last decade.
“For too long the School Board has been discussing consolidation and our children have been attempting to learn in substandard middle school buildings,” Meyer said in a statement. “Additionally, too many children are attending class in temporary classrooms at the elementary level. The consolidation needs to address all of these issues in a comprehensive manner ensuring that all children have the same opportunities no matter what school they attend.”
As a School Board member, Meyer said he would work with the City Council to get the reconfiguration funded. Past studies have put the price tag anywhere from $55 million to $80 million. The board is expecting to have a project estimate by December 2020.
Meyer said there needs to be a better working relationship between the City Council and School Board. For example, he pointed to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process, which he said seemed like it didn’t go very well.
The School Board cut its budget request by $500,000 before approving it in February. However, board members still advocated for that additional money. Some councilors expressed frustration during that process at how the board’s budget request was presented.
“We can’t present budgets and proposals to City Council in a way that potentially looks like it’s throwing them under the bus,” Meyer said. “That’s not a constructive way to do business.”
Meyer, a Washington State native, is the executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program, which provides energy efficiency services to low-income households in greater Charlottesville and Northern Virginia. He also serves on Charlottesville’s Housing Advisory Committee.
Those roles have given him experience working with council members, he said. Meyer said he also has been talking with council candidates, laying the groundwork for a constructive relationship.
Meyer said having competition in this year’s city School Board race is important.
“Through some of this campaigning and conversations with other candidates, we can help raise awareness of some of these issues, especially hopefully draw the public’s attention to this consolidation,” he said. “For a lot of people I talk to, they are not aware that’s on the table right now.”