COURTHOUSE – The School Board on Tuesday, May 28, chose Jessica Owens, a state social service curriculum writer, to fill the vacant Rose Hall seat until a special election is decided – and the board’s chairperson vowed to improve future processes for selecting and vetting appointees after an issue arose with an earlier choice for the district seat.
Owens, 39, said during an interview that she is “open” to running in the special election, but undecided. Her immediate goal is to serve as an appointee. “I’m excited at the opportunity,” she said, speaking with reporters. “I’m excited for the process to be done and to be able to get back to the business of the School Board. …
“I don’t have ambitions for politics. I have ambitions for helping children, and so I want to see how the fit is for myself, for the board and what kind of changes I’m able to make, and make a decision based upon that.”
Her selection seemingly marks the end to an odd stretch in city politics that has seen many complications and reversals. In the past several months, Virginia Beach has had special elections, recounts in close council races and changes in leadership due to various residency issues, some of which involved the courts.
In the Rose Hall District, former Councilmember Shannon Kane resigned her seat because her family moved, leading to the recent appointment of Michael Berlucchi. The School Board seat became open after a judge declared former School Board Member Joel McDonald vacated the office by moving out of his district during his term.
On Tuesday, May 21, the School Board unanimously chose Michael Mullins as the temporary appointee to replace McDonald, but past offensive social media posts by Mullins came to light. He declined the appointment via email on Wednesday, May 22. Two finalists remained – Owens and Seko Varner, who oversees a workforce program.
The School Board picked Owens in a 6-3 vote, with School Board Member Dottie Holtz absent due to an illness. Board Members Laura Hughes, Victoria Manning and Carolyn Weems favored Varner.
School Board Chairperson Beverly Anderson read a statement during the Tuesday, May 28, meeting, noting that the selection process had attracted negative attention and detracted from the work of the schools.
“It is regrettable that it took these events to bring to light the deficiencies in the procedures the School Board used to consider applicants for the School Board vacancies,” she said. “The School Board can and will do better.”
The schools will develop procedures for appointments that will include greater transparency and vetting, Anderson said.
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