|Stuart High School|
The school board passed a resolution July 29 calling for the establishment of a working group to consider whether having a school named for a Confederate general is no longer appropriate. The group’s charge includes weighing the pros and cons of a name change and exploring alternative means to pay for it.
The school board had issued a request for proposals for a consultant to facilitate the working group’s meetings, although that process is now on hold.
Consultant costs disputed
A recent news report on WUSA9 quotes opponents of a name change charging Fairfax County Public Schools is planning to spend $100,000 on a consultant. Opponents are also falsely claiming that changing the name would cost a lot more than FCPS anticipates – and are using that argument to lobby against both the name change and the meals tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.
School board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) argued on the WUSA9 broadcast that no money should be spent to change the name because the community doesn’t want it and FCPS is facing budget constraints. “We’re already in a strained position,” Schultz said. “This is where we as school board members have an extra fiduciary responsibility to be cautious where the money is spent.”
The $100,000 figure for a consultant is hugely exaggerated, however. That is the upper limit of what can be put in an RFP under FCPS policy. “That doesn’t mean we’re willing to spend $100,000,” said school board Chair Sandy Evans (Mason).
Superintendent Karen Garza had publicly stated that the consultant would most likely cost $15,000, and in an Oct. 12 email to the Stuart community she wrote, it’s “the expectation that this cost would not exceed $20,000.”
Plans to hire a consultant and appoint members of the working group have been put on hold, the memo states, due to Garza’s resignation and the appointment of Steven Lockard to serve as interim superintendent after her departure.
“While we are still committed to addressing the concerns of the Stuart community,” Garza said, “I believe that since I am leaving my position, it would only be fair to allow the interim superintendent to take over the necessary steps in forming this working group.”
“The whole process is slowing down,” Evans said. “It’s taking a little longer than we hoped. It’s not stopping. We haven’t forgotten about this. It’s still going to happen.”
According to Evans, an objective facilitator is needed to ensure the working group is productive, as “the name change is an emotional issue and people have strong opinions.”
Alternative funding sources
Evans supports a name change, although it took “a long time and a lot of research” to get there. “It makes sense to get the Confederate general’s name off the school,” she said.
The current best estimate by FCPS for the cost of changing the name is $678,000. Opponents, however, are charging it would cost $760,000, while some have said it would be as high as $1 million or even $2 million.
That is misleading, and it’s also misleading for opponents of the name change to try to tie it to the meals tax. “I personally don’t see a connection between the two,” Evans said. Seventy percent of the revenue from a meals would go to FCPS, which plans to use it to raise teacher salaries to a competitive level.
About half of the funds needed for a name change would go for “hard costs” for new signage and the like, which would come from the FCPS budget, noted George Alber, a member of the executive committee of the Fairfax County NAACP, which supports the name change.
The other costs, for things like new football and band uniforms, are generally paid by booster clubs, and those are replaced every few years anyway and should not be included the cost of a name change, Alber said.
If a decision is made to change the name, he said, “the school board, parents, alumni, and members of the community will responsibly work together to determine the timing of the changes that must be made, their actual costs, and alternatives for funding them, including potentially private fundraising.”
Evans is optimistic that the working group will come up with creative ways to finance the name change without digging too deeply into the FCPS budget. For one thing, thousands of people across the country signed a petition in support of the change and they might be willing to donate funds to make that happen.
If funds could be raised from the private sector, that would “change the conversation,” Evans said. “So many people only oppose the name change because of the cost. We need a way to find alternative funding.”
Opponents cite a survey that found a majority of the Stuart community want to keep the school’s name. But Alber said that survey was flawed. It was a self-selected survey, not statistically accurate, and thus, “doesn’t represent the full spectrum of the student body.”
One of the results of the community meeting about the name change last May was that there wasn’t enough community engagement, Evans said. “That is why we created the working group – to get more community engagement.”
Moreover, Alber said, “this should not be a plebescite. Justice, equality, and human rights are never served when the rights of the minority are subject to the whims of the majority.”
And it shouldn’t just be about money, he said. “The decision to change the name of JEB Stuart is a moral question about justice, equality, human rights, and reconciliation.”
In addition to the money issue and survey results, name change opponent Denise Patton, a former history teacher who lives near the school, cited the “distortion of history” during an interview on the WUSA9 report. “JEB Stuart was here at Munson Hill. He’s famous for his Quaker gun deception,” she said. (That involved painting logs to look like guns and fooling the enemy into thinking his troops were well armed.)
For those who support a name change, it’s all about history. “Do we wish to continue to honor and perpetuate a man who treasonously betrayed his country and violated the oath of office he took as an officer in the U.S. Army in order to give his life to preserve slavery?” Albers asked. “Do we wish to continue to perpetuate the Confederate values of white supremacy, slavery, and the denial of human rights to millions of people?”
In addition, he notes, the school was defiantly named for JEB Stuart in 1959 by a school board that “fought desegregation with the full support of the government of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The working group has been charged with coming up with ideas to “honor and preserve the school’s history, traditions, and past achievements, and to memorialize its decades as JEB Stuart High School.”