Red Apple Mom

March 23, 2011

Political Jiu Jitsu for 2011 School Board Elections

It’s not even April yet, and some School Board members are already trying to frame the November elections for School Board.

That tells me one thing – they’re running scared about being replaced by voters.

Their apparent strategy, as outlined in a recent Fairfax Times article, is to falsely depict all challengers as “one-issue” candidates who won’t serve the “whole” community.

Their strategy is also to make “student achievement” the sole focus of any campaign.

Here’s the problem for sitting school board members – the public is generally motivated to vote because of hot-button issues.  And FCPS has served up plenty of hot-button issues the past four years.  (See several outlined below.)

School Board Member Liz Bradsher told the Fairfax Times, “It’s important for whoever runs for the School Board not to be a one-issue candidate because that’s bad for the school system.”

Hmmmm…actually what’s bad for the school system is School Board meetings that violate Virginia’s Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Act – violations that have recently led to expensive court action over the Clifton ES closure.

What’s also bad for the school system is School Board members who are out of touch and fail to be ahead of the curve on issues like FAIRGRADE, discipline reform and administrative spending priorities.

The current crop of School Board challengers aren’t one-issue candidates.  They have proven to be effective parent advocates who use data and evidence to validate their positions.  They use the law (like FOIA), to substantiate their concerns.  They advocate for accountability and transparent decision-making.  Most importantly, the issues they advocate for have all been directly or indirectly related to ‘student achievement.” 

My favorite part of this article is at the end when At-Large School Board member Jim Raney states that having new people on the board with new views can also be a good thing. I’ll second that statement!

Too many School Board members want this job for life. Ilyrong Moon has been on the board since 1995.  Jane Strauss is going on her second DECADE of service.  We need school board members who have kids currently attending our public schools – board members who “get it” and can relate to today’s parents and taxpayers!

No one I speak to wants more super-sized classes, administrators buying plush new buildings for themselves and senseless policies that lead to low teacher and student morale.

New views are good and needed.  That means electing new talent that will help reform-minded board members like Patty Reed.  Running a campaign for School Board is a demanding and expensive commitment.  At the very least, all challenger candidates deserve fair consideration.  If you like what they stand for and what they have accomplished, please give them your help and your vote.  With your support, the public may finally get the School Board we deserve in Fairfax County!

GATEHOUSE II:  In 2007, the School Board voted for a second, new administration building that would have cost $130 million.  Known as the “Gatehouse II” debacle, parent advocates got the project killed by demonstrating the huge holes in FCPS’ business case.

FAIRGRADE:  In 2009, thousands of parents engaged in a year long campaign to convince Dr. Dale and the School Board that previous grading policies were harming college-bound graduates.  The leaders of FAIRGRADE devoted thousands of volunteer hours compiling the research and organizing the effort that finally led to an overhaul of the grading policy – despite the many obstacles thrown out by FCPS officials.

INCREASED CLASS SIZE:  In 2010, the School Board voted to increase class size.  Red Apple Mom readers know class size is a particular sore point for me as my son’s fifth grade class at Spring Hill ES now has 35 students (one student recently went home to Korea), and we have a third grade class with 33 students!   It’s unfair to the kids and the teachers!

INCREASED FEES: Public school became increasingly more expensive in 2010 with new athletic fees, higher parking fees and AP/IB testing fees (now rescinded due to a ruling  by Virginia’s attorney general.) 

PUNITIVE DISCIPLINARY POLICIES: We learned that FCPS’ discipline policies recently contributed to the suicide of a Woodson HS student. The public also learned just how excessively harsh these policies are –“involuntary school transfers”, lack of due process, lack of parent notification and a draconian and aggressive FCPS hearings process that treats Tylenol-takers the same as a drug dealer.  Thanks to the parent advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR) these policies may finally get reformed.

FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN: Until FDK advocates forced the School Board to address the inequity at 37 of FCPS elementary schools, this issue wasn’t even on FCPS’ agenda this year.

TEACHER CONCERNS: From compensation issues to working conditions, FCPS’ teacher workforce has had it.  The ever-increasing demands of assessments and standardized tests and professional development requirements have taken a big toll.  FCPS’ teacher workforce is demoralized with many teachers saying they don’t have time to teach.

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  1. As Red Apple Mom notes, the “one issue” candidate issue is a red herring. The real issue is what has a sitting school board candidate done when it comes to wisely using budget $$? Are they supporting the status quo and the FCPS bureaucracy or are they asking FCPS staff for details about how $$ are spent? Do they welcome informed input from the community or ignore it? Fairfax County citizens, pay attention to the school board candidates and what they are saying during this campaign season. Whether you have kids in the system or not, they are YOUR elected representatives and it’s YOUR $2.1 billion dollars in the school budget.

    Comment by pommefrites — March 23, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    • There is another good point raised in this article I wanted to address which goes to the “School Board learning curve.” I believe the argument can be made that parent advocates who have been following FCPS for years sometimes know FCPS better than many existing School Board members. For example, FAIRGRADE and Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) co-founder and school board challenger candidate Louise Epstein has huge chunks of the FCPS budget committed to memory. And because she has served on so many PTA committees and is a current PTA president, she has extensive knowledge and insight with administrative issues, teacher concerns and curriculum issues. I am personally aware of school board members who call Louise before they call FCPS staff with questions about the FCPS budget and curriculum issues because they know they’ll get the answer faster and often with detailed analysis. Challenger candidate Megan McLaughlin – also a FAIRGRADE and FEC co-founder – also knows FCPS well. As the Chair of the Fairfax Education Coalition, Megan attends most School Board work sessions, most School Board meetings and has served on several committees including the Fairfax County School Bond committee and the Woodson High School renovation committee. She’s also very familiar with the budget and is a former admissions officer with Georgetown University. She knew far more than FCPS staff about the college admissions process when FAIRGRADE worked with FCPS to study the grading policy issue. Another School Board candidate, Elizabeth Schultz, knows the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Law better than any current School Board member. And her involvement and leadership with Friends of Community Schools demonstrates she also has a complete grasp on boundary and school closure issues. There are other challenger candidates I have spoken to who have expertise with critical special education issues. So my point is that for many of the challenger candidates, the “learning curve” should not be a big deal. In fact, there is such a potpourri of candidates coming to the table with such varied experiences, that we may see the most experienced and knowledgeable School Board ever elected in Fairfax County!

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — March 24, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  2. “We need school board members who have kids currently attending our public schools – board members who “get it” and can relate to today’s parents and taxpayers!”

    There is an old joke about how “All generalities are false, including this one.” Steve Hunt, who doesn’t have any children, served on the School Board and was one of the more effective advocates for parents and those who questioned ineffective spending. So while I agree that a lot of current members of the School Board are out of touch, you shouldn’t paint those without kids in the school system with a broad brush this way.

    My fourth grader is in a class with 30+ students. His teacher is certainly stressed out, though he is making pretty good academic achievement. His grade was “on the cust” of having an extra teacher for his grade, but the decision was made not to (or else he would have been in a class with about 22 kids).

    Great post!

    Comment by isophorone — March 28, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    • You make an excellent point – and you are correct, Steve Hunt was a TERRIFIC school board member. I don’t mean to paint all School Board members with one brush. Tina Hone does not have children and she is a FABULOUS school board member representing the interests of students and defending the interests of all stakeholders. But we clearly do need more people who are also experiencing what we parents are experiencing in the schools because their own kids are currently in the system or their kids are very recent graduates. 75% of Fairfax County residents do not have kids in the public schools yet 53% of their taxes support the system. So yes, their views should also be represented and I think those folks make particularly excellent At-Large candidates! Thanks for posting your comment Isophorone!

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — March 28, 2011 @ 11:44 am

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