RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Board of Education has agreed to clear a controversial candidate for superintendent in Spotsylvania County with no education background — and a history of inflammatory social media posts — paving the way for him to fill the vacancy.
A number of speakers called on the board to deny Mark Taylor entry to the state’s list of qualified superintendents, citing his lack of relevant experience and racially charged social media posts. A handful of speakers backed his candidacy, accusing opponents of his nomination of political bias.
Taylor was the school board’s pick after he abruptly fired the former superintendent without cause in January, cementing control of the board’s new conservative majority.
Who is Mark Taylor?
Mark Taylor is currently the County Manager for Greene, west of Spotsylvania. Prior to that, he served in the Spotsylvania County government as a legal adviser. He has never worked in public education, nor does he have a university education in education.
It was a major sticking point for many Spotsylvania educators and parents who spoke at the Virginia Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
“Mr. Taylor has no experience as an education administrator,” said Rich Lieberman, a former school board candidate for Spotsylvania.
But Lisa Phelps, a current board member who voted to send Taylor as a candidate before the BOE, said it didn’t matter, and the decision should be up to the county alone, “Vote yes and let Spotsylvania County move on to take care of Spotsylvania County.”
Controversy has also swirled around posts Taylor made on her personal Facebook page. They reportedly included memes poking fun at trans people and school shootings, racist innuendo and calls for parents to pull their children out of public schools.
Facebook posts, apparently written by Mark Taylor, which were submitted to the Board of Education on Thursday for review.
“He’s the kind of man I wouldn’t want my kids to interact with at all,” said Julie Young, a mother of two at Spotsylvania Schools. “And I certainly don’t want him to be in charge of an entire school division.”
In an interview with ABC affiliate WJLA, Taylor told reporters that he had not posted the posts — which were posted over several months and interspersed with unrelated posts appearing to be from Taylor — and that his account may have -be hacked.
“I don’t understand how someone is attacking or gaining access to an account, I imagine it’s possible,” he told WJLA.
A speaker at the council meeting derided this explanation.
“Now he’s implying he was hacked, even though his messages are timestamped and go back years,” said Rebecca Murray, a retired teacher of 20 years. “Too little, too late, too convenient.”
But Laurie Szymanski, a substitute teacher in the county, said the posts were unearthed as part of a politically motivated attack on Taylor, “with mob-like gloss, fire and vilification tactics.” .
Taylor also gained support from Spotsylvania resident James Manship, who appeared before the board in colonial attire and sometimes claimed to speak as the “spirit” of Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The limit of local control
When it came time for the board to weigh whether to approve Taylor’s licensure as superintendent, the question hinged on what role the state board should play in determining his suitability.
Virginia law allows local school boards to nominate candidates who do not otherwise have educator qualifications to be appointed as superintendents, but still requires state board approval to add them to the list of acceptable candidates.
Clarence Collins, head of the Spotsylvania Education Association, called on the council to use its oversight to block Taylor’s licensing.
“Rome is burning. As education leaders, this is your balcony moment,” he said. “You can’t fall into the fray, you have to stay above it and make the best decision for our students.”
On the other hand, Roy Surls, a resident of Spotsylvania, linked Taylor’s endorsement to Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the 2021 election.
“Governor Youngkin won Spotsylvania County by landslide. Our four majority members also won their election by landslide,” he said. “The people of Spotsylvania County have spoken. “
Anne Holton, a board member appointed by former Governor Ralph Northam, said she initially wanted to endorse Taylor’s candidacy.
“I started reading public comments, frankly, wanting to be able to endorse the Spotsylvania board’s recommendation for superintendent,” she said. “I strongly believe in local control.”
But she changed her mind when she saw the Facebook posts allegedly authored by Taylor, which she said mocked Oprah Winfrey for being fat and black, disparaging immigrants and calling on parents to pull their children out of schools. public.
“These are all within the last 18 months. It’s not, you know, ‘Oh, I did something when I was a kid.’ These are recent posts,” she said.
But other council members said it was the responsibility of the local council, not the state, to vet their nominees.
“If I was on a local council, I would consider these Facebook posts a disqualification,” said Youngkin appointee Dr. Alan Seibert. But Seibert added that the responsibility ultimately rests with that local council, not the State Board of Education.
The board ultimately voted to approve Taylor’s inclusion on the list by a 6-2 vote, with Holton and Dr. Tammy Mann opposed.