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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FX CO teacher unions weigh in on school board candidates

The two unions that represent Fairfax County teachers have endorsed school board candidates running for election in November, and in some cases are supporting newcomers over incumbents.

Both the Fairfax Education Association (FEA) and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) are supporting a mix of candidates who have been endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties. School board elections are supposed to be non-partisan, but candidates seek endorsement from one of the two political parties. It’s considered extremely difficult, if not impossible to win an election without the backing from a major political party.
Both teacher unions, however, have endorsed Steve Stuban, an at-large candidate who is running as an independent after seeking and failing to get an endorsement from the Fairfax County Republican Committee.
Stuban does have name recognition in the county. He has become an advocate for a more reasonable FCPS discipline policy after his 15-year-old son committed suicide in January. His son had been suspended and forced to transfer out of Woodson High School over an incident involving synthetic marijuana. 
For the other two at-large seats on the school board, the FEA has endorsed the incumbent, Ilryong Moon, who has the backing of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, and the Republican-endorsed Lolita Mancheno-Smoak.

Regarding Stuban and Mancheno-Smoak, FEA President Michael Hairston said, “we were impressed with their breadth of knowledge of the system, and they seem to be receptive to listening to practitioners.”

The FCFT has also endorsed Stuban and Mancheno-Smoak, plus another at-large candidate, Sheree Brown-Kaplan, who is backed by the Republicans. FCFT President Steve Greenberg says he suspects the union members supported Brown-Kaplan because of her high-profile work on the County Council of PTAs and her advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities.

The other at-large candidates, not endorsed by either union, are Ryan McElveen and Ted Velkoff, both endorsed by the Democrats, and Lin-Dai Kendall, endorsed by the Republicans.

The unions follow different procedures for endorsing school board candidates. The FEA’s endorsements were approved by the union’s board, after its government relations committee reviewed the candidates’ answers to a questionnaire, interviewed them, and submitted recommendations. The FEA represents about 6,000 teachers.

The FEA based its decision on who to endorse on whether candidates “are willing to listen to what we have to say; whether they want to give teachers a voice,” says Hairston. The FEA is more concerned with the candidates’ views on the issues, than which party they are associated with, he says.  

The FCFT, which announced its endorsements Sept. 19, had asked all the candidates to submit responses to a questionnaire, posted the responses on its website, and had its entire membership vote online. The FCFT’s 4,000 members include instructional assistants, counselors, secretaries, and other school employees, as well as teachers.

“I don’t know how many members voted the party line or decided who to vote for because of a personal relationship,” Greenberg says. The FCFT didn’t identify candidates’ party affiliations on its website. “I don’t see the school board operating in a partisan manner,” he says.

The school board elections have attracted a lot of attention this year, which is due in part to the fact that six of the 12 incumbents are seeking re-election.

Both unions endorsed Mason District school board member Sandy Evans, who represents most of the Annandale area. Evans, who is backed by the Democrats, is running unopposed.

Other incumbents endorsed by both unions are Patty Reed (Providence), Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), and Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). Reed has been endorsed by the Republicans, and Storck and Hynes have been endorsed by the Democrats.

Hairston says Evans and Reed have been “solid from day one” and says “they seek input from teachers.” He called Storck “dependable, a good friend to teachers, and willing to listen.”

The Republicans have endorsed Nancy Linton in Hunter Mill and Michele Nellenbach in Mount Vernon. Reed is unopposed.

In the Braddock District, which includes part of the Annandale area, both unions are endorsing Megan McLaughlin, who is backed by the Democrats. Her Republican-endorsed opponent is Nell Hurley.

Neither union has endorsed the Dranesville incumbent, Janie Strauss, who is the current school board chair, and has been endorsed by the Democrats. Instead, they are supporting her Republican challenger, Louise Epstein.

When asked why the FEA isn’t supporting Strauss, Hairston said, “We felt it’s time for a change.”

Greenburg speculates that maybe the FCFT members “wanted someone with a new perspective” or were more impressed with Epstein. “There could be an advantage in having a lot of experience,” he says, “but there is a danger in that, too, in that you can become very comfortable with your own perspective.”

Both unions are endorsing Lee District candidate Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who is supported by the Democrats and is unopposed.

In the Sully District, the FCFT is endorsing the Republican-backed candidate Sheila Ratnam, rather than the Democratic-backed incumbent Kathy Smith. In the Springfield District, the FCFT is backing the Republican-endorsed candidate Elizabeth Schultz rather than her Democratic-supported opponent John Wittman.

The FEA is not endorsing a candidate in Springfield or Sully.  “We felt they were both good candidates,” Hairston says of Schultz and Wittman.

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