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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

FXCO School board candidates address needs-based funding formula

From the left: Nell Hurley, Lin-Dai Kendall, Lolita
Mancheno Smoak, and Ryan McElveen
When deciding which school board candidates to vote for Nov. 8, one possible factor to consider is whether they understand and support the issues faced by schools in Annandale and the Mason District, which serve diverse populations with larger numbers of special-needs students.

A good question to ask them is whether they support the needs-based funding formula that funnels extra support to schools with large percentages of poor students and English language learners.

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by the Annandale High School PTSA, Mason District board member Sandy Evans and at-large candidates Steve Stuban, Ted Velkoff, and Sheree Brown-Kaplan made a point of announcing their support for the needs-based formula – although none of the candidates, at least in appearances in our neck of the woods, said they didn’t support it.

The issue has taken on greater urgency since several of the candidates have been advised by school activist and political consultant Catherine Lorenze, who is advocating against the needs-based formula and recently charged that parts of Annandale and other areas “make out like bandits” because they have smaller classes than schools  wealthier areas like McLean. Evans, who is unopposed, has already issued a statement sharply denouncing Lorenzo’s comments.

During the Tuesday forum, a member of the audience asked Lolita Maneno-Smoak to explain her relationship with Catherine Lorenze. Mancheno-Smoak said Lorenze “offered her help pro bono” and provided strategic expertise and assistance with a campaign plan, polling, and setting up a website. The help was “tremendously welcoming,” Mancheno-Smoak said, “but just because she provided technical advice, it doesn’t mean she speaks for me.”

Several candidates were asked whether they would seek to reverse the school board decision on the Annandale Boundary Study. Evans said she fought to keep the Bren Mar Park and Wakefield Chapel communities at Annandale High School. Although the final board vote was disappointing, she said, she promised to work “to keep Annandale strong.”

“I don’t see the school board revisiting” the issue, Evans said. But when later told that the numbers of lower-income students at Annandale HS are much higher than anticipated, she said that could be a rationale for taking another look at the issue.

“I feel terrible about the way the vote came out,” said at-large board member Ilryong Moon, who also voted to keep Wakefield Chapel and Bren Mark Park students at Annandale, “but this is a democracy” and it’s time to move on. Although, he later said, “if the numbers of poor students are that high, I would certainly reconsider.”

The related issue of transforming Holmes Middle School into a small high school to relieve overcrowding also came up. Evans called it a “great idea” and said “it is not dead.” She suggested the possibility of having Holmes become a magnet school for the study of languages.

The following comments are from the candidates’ opening statements at the forum and from their answers to questions submitted by the audience.

Steve Stuban said he running because he tried to convince school officials to implement reforms in the discipline process, “and to my chagrin and surprise, the response I got from the superintendent and some members of the school board was a stiff arm and deaf ear.” He did say that two board members, Evans and Patty Reed (Providence) were “very supportive.” [Stuban did not mention that his interest in discipline reform stems from the suicide of his son, Nick, who had been suspended from Woodson High School following a relatively minor infraction.]

As the only school board candidate not endorsed by a political party, Stuban was asked which party he reached out to. “Both the Democrats and Republicans reached out to me,” Stuban said. But as a federal employee working in intelligence, he said he isn’t allowed to advertise his ties to a political party.

Ted Velkoff said he wants all Fairfax County students to “receive the same education my daughters received.” He opposes “teaching to the test,” supports fair compensation for teachers, and wants the schools to focus on “21st century skills,” such as collaboration, critical thinking, and communications, to prepare them for the global workforce. He also vowed to be an advocate for preschool programs and said “there is no greater investment we can make as a society.”

Ilryong Moon said, as only incumbent at-large member running for re-election, he will provide leadership and stability. And because he came to the United States at age 17 to escape poverty, he understands the issues of the county’s large number of immigrant students.

Braddock District candidate Megan McLaughlin spoke about her experience as the co-founder of FairGrade, a parent advocacy group created to reform FCPS grading policies, and as a former admissions officer at Georgetown University. She proposed a task force to look for ways to better engage parents from underrepresented populations and also talked about her work with FairGrade to bring back honors courses.

Nell Hurley, also running in the Braddock District, spoke about her work on the Annandale Regional Boundary Study. “I’m proud of the way we worked together with as little antagonism as possible,” she said. She said she understands some of the concerns of today’s students because she had to work while in high school, comes from a diverse family, and moved around a lot while in the military.

When asked about the biggest challenges facing Annandale High School, Hurley mentioned the need to make sure there are enough students to maintain IB classes and bring credibility to the Fairfax Planning Advisory Council.

At-large candidate Ryan McElveen touted his experience as both a student and teacher at FCPS schools. He started working on school issues as a student Marshall High School, where he fought to have doors installed on the bathroom stalls. He believes teacher compensation needs to be increased to attract the best talent. He also wants to eliminate the athletic fees and educate students to be “global citizens.”

For Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, the top issues are the effective and efficient use of tax dollars, internal controls and oversight of the school budget, and a “robust curriculum for all children.”

Lin-Dai Kendall, an at-large candidate, wants to bring an analytic approach to support a “citizen-friendly school board,” strengthen the curriculum, and “not let demographics define [students’] potential.” She suggested the school borrow an idea from the KIPP network of charter schools and have parents, teachers, and students sign a contract to commit to academic success.

Mason District incumbent Sandy Evans stalked about successfully eliminating the AP/IB test fees and capping the athletic fees. She wants to make sure “schools inside the beltway get plenty of attention.”

At-large candidate Sheree Brown-Kaplan said we need “accountable and responsive schools” that will partner with parents and communities. She called for an independent audit of the school budget to ensure funds to go the classroom and transparency in decision making and vowed to be an advocate for special education and students with disabilities.

Eight at-large candidates will appear at a forum Thursday, Oct. 20, at Fairfax High School. The session is hosted by the Braddock District Council and the Providence District Council.

1 comment:

  1. I love how Sandy Evans is so staunchly in support of the needs based formula because it keeps class sizes down in needy areas. However, when it came time to vote on moving students out of a very overcrowded Annandale into schools with plenty of space she choose to vote for keeping kids at overcrowded Annandale. Use the facts to support your argument with the needs based formula but when the same facts don't support your Annandale boundary position they are no longer important and what is important is all the touchy feely intangible arguments on the special place that Annandale is, so students have to stay in an overcrowded school to maintain it. Two totally contradictory views.