The Richmond School Board candidate whose campaign distributed illegal sample ballots and made replacement ballots at a school is set to retain her seat on the board.
Former Chimborazo Elementary School Principal Cheryl Burke was elected to keep her seat on the board Tuesday night, holding the nine-person group in tact through 2020 after two years of consistent turnover. Burke, who was appointed to represent the 7th District last October, won the special election and had received 30 percent more votes than her competitors, community organizer Gary Broderick and immigration lawyer Bryce Robertson.
At press time, the Virginia Department of Elections had yet to report results from two precincts.
A phone call to Burke late Tuesday night went straight to voicemail.
Her opponents both thanked the East End community for supporting their campaigns.
“I’m very thankful for the support of my friends and family and proud of the fact that my campaign was able to contribute meaningful policy ideas to support RPS,” Robertson said. “I wish Cheryl and the Board success as they tackle the many challenges facing our schools.”
Broderick’s campaign said: “Tonight we are celebrating all the ways this campaign helped us to advance a movement for public education in our city. We have seen firsthand that a different type of politic can move our communities. We’re looking forward to the work to come.”
The special election was held after Nadine Marsh-Carter resigned from her seat on the board last September following the unexpected death of her husband. After receiving 10 applications, the School Board appointed Burke to the seat in an interim capacity before the special election 13 months later.
The 7th District is comprised of Bellevue, Chimborazo, Fairfield Court, George Mason and Woodville elementary schools; Armstrong High School; and Franklin Military Academy.
Organizers for Burke's campaign distributed unauthorized flyers outside voting precincts Tuesday morning. The flyers highlighted Democratic-endorsed candidates - initially without a state-required disclosure saying who'd authorized the ads. They inserted Burke as a Democratically-endorsed candidate, despite no endorsement coming from the local Democratic committee.
School Board races, under state law, are nonpartisan although political affiliations often are used in campaign materials.
Burke said Tuesday afternoon that her campaign switched out the flyers to add the disclosure, which reads “Authorized & Paid For By Friends of Cheryl Burke.”
The Virginia Department of Elections did not return multiple requests for comment Tuesday.
Where the new flyers, which were printed two to a page, were prepared is also at issue.
A picture of the new flyers taken inside Franklin Military Academy, a specialty school in the 7th District, was obtained by the Times-Dispatch. The flyers in the picture had not been cut into the half pieces of paper they were eventually distributed as by the campaign.
That raised concerns that Burke had used school resources to make the new flyers.
Superintendent Jason Kamras said some copies were made at the school by community volunteers – not district employees – and he told school principal David Hudson to determine the number of copies so the district could be reimbursed by Burke’s campaign.
Burke reiterated later Tuesday that she was unaware of the printing at Franklin.
The 65-year-old stems from Powhatan County. Burke’s the daughter of two educators and graduated from the now-closed Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, a historically black private school.
In 1996 she became principal at Chimborazo Elementary School, one of the division’s lowest-performing schools. Burke counts making Chimborazo a fully accredited school – it no longer has that ranking – one of the major successes of her 19-year tenure. She retired in 2014.
After voters spurned his endorsement in last year’s special election, Mayor Levar Stoney’s preferred candidate appears to have won out this time around.
“She’s been a reliable champion for public education for a very, very long time both in the classroom and as a principal – no one else in the race has that sort of resume,” Stoney said before the election.
Since coming onto the board, Burke has been a strong supporter of Kamras, who she voted to hire last November.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Cheryl," Kamras said Monday night. "Her perspective as a principal in RPS is incredibly valuable."
Burke’s apparent victory avoids another shake-up in the board’s structure.
Since the 2016 election, the School Board has had four different makeups and two special elections. The group is about to head into Kamras’ first budget cycle and take on district-wide rezoning, an often-thorny issue that resulted in a lawsuit the last time the board tried to change school lines.
Burke was sworn in last year as an interim representative. Details for a new swearing-in ceremony have not been finalized.