Election Stunner Builds Momentum for Norfolk Schools

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Norfolk, Va., teachers and other school employees gave doorbells and phone lines a workout this month in an unprecedented and successful community outreach campaign that netted new faces on the city council and strong pro-education voices in the policy arena.

The Norfolk Federation of Teachers spearheaded the grass-roots campaign, which was tied to the city's May 4 city council election and to a critical school budget vote set for later this month. The effort already has generated more than 9,000 contacts through mail, live phone calls and door-to-door visits—as well as one of the most astonishing local election upsets in recent memory.

In Ward 5, former state teacher of the year and NFT-recommended candidate Tommy Smigiel defeated W. Randy Wright, a 30-year fixture in local politics and founder of the anti-tax faction known as the Norfolk Tea Party. Smigiel, a former NFT member and current school principal, entered the race "so that our children, families and schools have an advocate on the city council," and it was a message the community was ready to rally behind.

"Teachers and other school employees made almost 3,000 contacts in Ward 5 alone," says NFT president Marian Flickinger. "These are the educators who have gone without raises for three years, yet stayed at their posts because they are committed to what they're fighting for—public schools that give kids in Norfolk a real chance in life."

Educators, parents and students will be looking for that same level of commitment from elected officials later this month when the city council takes up the budget for the coming school year. Less than 24 hours after the city council votes were tallied, teachers turned out again for a city council hearing at which they urged current members to work with educators on a plan to stop catastrophic cuts and layoffs.

"There is no letup, not with the stakes this high," Flickinger says. "We will continue building our neighborhood ties, continue making our voices heard, continue to reassure the community that, when it comes keeping Norfolk schools strong, the public educators' fight has no expiration date."

A special website has more information about the Norfolk budget battle.

May 6, 2010