WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — For nearly a year and a half, the third ward seat for the Winchester school board has sat empty.
The seat, now filled by volunteer fire fighter Elyus Wallace, was the inspiration and perhaps the frustration behind an effort by city residents to get the board seats to be filled via election rather than appointment.
The petition to hold a referendum on whether the board should be elected was filed in April by Ward 3 resident Roya Milotte. On Monday, she was joined by Winchester resident Dani Bostick, who does not live in the Ward, to submit the signatures gathered. The two, among others, have been campaigning since the spring to reach the 2,000 signatures needed for the petition to be eligible.
Wallace, who was appointed in June, says he was turned down at first when he applied last year. He served on the Social Services board to bolster his experience. Milotte herself had applied and interviewed for the position when it first opened.
She says the feedback she received from citizens across the wards solidified why she feels the change is necessary. Many residents she spoke with either didn’t know the positions were appointed or didn’t know two of the seats were open at the time. Others still didn’t understand the process of how residents could get appointed to the seat.
“The school board should be working with the community and maybe if they did that, people would know hey they’re lacking that representation,” Milotte said. “But hopefully we can fix that with this and that won’t ever happen again.”
“Elyus Wallace will be a fantastic addition to the school board, but again, why again why was that seat vacant for so long?” she asked.
Ward 3 resident Kandice Crouse has lived in the ward for 31 years and attended Winchester Public Schools herself.
“We haven’t really had a voice. A lot has happened this past year in schools, especially with these two,” Crouse said, adding that her younger son Jude struggled with bullying during the school year. “With us not having a voice and it not being heard, you don’t really know who to go to.”
Now, Crouse has Wallace, who she met after signing Milotte’s petition. She says he made the effort to get to know her family and understand the problems they’ve faced even before he was appointed.
“People understand that I’m not just on the school board, or representing just Ward 3, I represent all the wards, the whole city,” Wallace said. “It’s not just me on the seat, we’re all on the seat. We’re all in this together.”
An additional school board seat in the city’s 2nd ward also remains vacant.