Ramblings: Council Seeks More School Board Applicants; Equity Board Wants To Delay Apology; Roanoke Times Union To Picket

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Roanoke City Council, which appoints school board members, is seeking more candidates after receiving six applications for three open seats. Mayor Sherman Lea, school board chair Eli Jamison and Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd attend a joint meeting in 2022. ROANOKE RAMBLER FILE PHOTO

Council seeks more school board candidates

Roanoke City Council has pushed back the deadline for school board candidates after receiving six applications for three open seats.

Council’s decision about who should serve on the board comes at a time when it’s also seeking to revamp how it steers local tax dollars to Roanoke City Public Schools. A Council proposal to not automatically give the district 40 percent of surplus local tax revenue — which last year totaled more than $16 million — has met with fierce blowback from incumbent school board members.

Three-year school board terms are up July 1 for Michael Cherry II, Mark Cathey and Diane Casola. Cathey, who was first appointed in 2015, is term-limited and Casola is not seeking a second term.

Earlier, Council set a March 11 deadline to receive applications, which garnered interest from six individuals, according to the clerk’s office: Cherry, Auraliz “Liz” Quintana, Porshia Jackson, DeAnthony Muse, Tonya Goode-Gilliam and David Howell.

The new deadline is 5 p.m. on Monday, April 1.

Roanoke remains one of the few localities in Virginia where City Council appoints school board members instead of through elections. The seven-person board oversees school administrators and a district of about 14,000 students spread across two dozen schools.

On April 15, Council will announce the names of the finalists it will interview on May 6, Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd said at a recent meeting.

On May 20, Council will hear comments from the public about the finalists and make a decision shortly thereafter.

That time frame will pit the appointment process against Council’s revision of the school funding formula, which it aims to do every three years. Past revisions, adopted in May, have strayed little from a 2011 agreement that streamlined the allocation of 40 percent of local tax revenue to the district.

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Equity board wants to delay urban renewal apology

Roanoke’s equity board wants to tap the brakes on issuing an apology for urban renewal.

City Council’s vote last month to adopt a plan guiding development at Evans Spring prompted pushback from some members of the Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board, which is appointed by Council.

“There is concern about moving it forward,” Angela Penn, who chairs the board, said at a recent meeting in summarizing feedback from subcommittee members. She cited “the impact of the Evans Spring decision and whether or not the community would be amenable or even receptive to” the apology.

As we first reported in December, Council has tasked its equity board with drafting a public apology for the pain wrought by urban renewal, which in the middle of the last century led to the destruction of 1,600 homes, 200 Black-owned businesses and two dozen churches.

Penn said in December that she hoped Roanoke leaders would issue the apology by this spring or summer. The apology is meant to accompany specific actions that the city would take, including financial commitments.

Some community members have argued the city's hope for large-scale development at the 150-acres of privately owned woodlands across from Valley View Mall raises the specter of urban renewal.

“I am afraid that issuing the apology now in light of the disappointment in Council’s vote on accepting the revised Evans Spring proposal looks hypocritical,” one subcommittee member wrote in a compilation of feedback. “Regardless of the reality that Evans Spring is not ‘urban renewal,’ those residents still experiencing trauma from the past do NOT trust the plan for development of Evans Spring.”

Another subcommittee member added that now is not the time for an apology, writing, “Many feel that Council is not truly listening to the community, especially regarding Evans Spring and Gainsboro.”

Penn said the board should seek Council’s opinion on how to move forward.

Vice Mayor Joe Cobb said he was grateful for the board’s input and looks forward to its recommendations.

“I believe that alongside any apology we offer (whenever the determined timing is) that we also have a concurrent pathway for healing centered practices that can accompany an apology,” he said in an email.

Roanoke Times journalists to picket

Roanoke Times journalists are staging a lunch-hour picket outside the newspaper’s offices in protest of what the unionized staff calls “disappointing and uncompetitive proposals" from corporate owner Lee Enterprises.

The picket will be held at 1 p.m. today (Wednesday) at Lacks and Freedom plazas (410 3rd St. SW, Roanoke).

Lee has offered staff 2 annual percent raises as part of another two-year contract.

“Two percent doesn’t even keep up with inflation,” said Michael Belcher, chief union steward, who works on the copy desk. “In the process, we’re just drowning more slowly.”

Belcher said the union has proposed a new pay scale designed to address wage disparities for long-time employees.

“We have people here who have been literally 15, 20 years making about the same who are a new hire,” Belcher said. “That’s what we’re trying to fix, the injustice of people being underpaid years upon years.”

The union is also arguing that the company reimburse mileage at the IRS recommendation of 67 cents per mile, versus the company’s current 34 cents.

Lee spokesperson Tracy Rouch said the company is unable to comment.

The union is scheduled to bargain with the company again April 15 and 16.

Founded in 2020, the union known as the Timesland News Guild is currently made up of 22 newsroom positions, down from 55 when it began.

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