School Board Endorses Transportation Referendum

School Board Endorses Transportation Referendum

In a move that drew criticism from some members of the Fairfax County School Board, chairman Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) proposed on Thursday, a two-page resolution supporting the transportation referendum.

If passed in November, the measure would raise the sales tax in Northern Virginia a half cent to pay for designated transportation projects in the region.

The vote was unanimous, with all four Republican-endorsed members — Christian Braunlich (Lee), Mychele Brickner (At large), Rita Thompson (At large) and Tessie Wilson (Braddock) — abstaining.

In addition, the School Board gave its unanimous support, without any dissension, to the referendum for higher education bonds, also on the November ballot.

Isis Castro, Mount Vernon District representative, voted for the resolution to support the tax referendum.

"In Fairfax County we transport about 105,000 students by bus everyday. If this tax referendum passes and new roads are built, students will spend less time on those buses. This is our only chance to get out of this traffic congestion.

"We hear from parents regularly about how long their children spend on the buses. Hopefully, this will shorten that time."

GIBSON SAID the sales-tax resolution brings the School Board in line with neighboring jurisdictions. The School Boards in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have also publicly endorsed the measure, as has the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and the Fairfax Education Association, which represents Fairfax County teachers and support personnel. The School Boards of Prince William and Loudoun counties has so far not taken a public position on the referendum.

In his resolution Gibson wrote, "Whereas, approval of the transportation referendum on Nov. 5, 2002, will demonstrate to our fellow citizens in Fairfax County and to our elected representatives in Richmond that Fairfax County voters support providing local jurisdictions with the power to raise additional funds to meet local needs, which may, in turn, increase the chance that Fairfax County Public Schools will ultimately be able to generate the financial support it needs to support the children of Fairfax County …."

The Republican-endorsed School Board members questioned the appropriateness of the board in endorsing the referendum.

"It is not germane to the function of the board. It's not our role," said Wilson. "Our role is the education of our children."

Braunlich said the resolution stretches the relationship between education and transportation and said it did not belong on the School Board's agenda. He also said that if the endorsement was meant as a way to strengthen ties to the business community in hopes it would support a similar measure for schools, then that hope was misguided. He said the business community has already shown its unwillingness to help the schools raise needed additional funding with its opposition to a voluntary cash-proffer system that would charge developers to offset their impact on public services including schools.

Brickner said that she would abstain as a matter of consistency. Previously she abstained on a resolution supporting a proposal by county Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) which would have raised the sales tax by a penny with half going to education and the other half to transportation. Versions of that proposal failed to make it out of the General Assembly earlier this year.

Gibson said it was appropriate for the School Board because transportation issues affect the schools by creating longer bus rides, which takes away from instructional time.

"I recognize transportation is a problem, but it's not this board's mission to fix it," Brickner said.

The strongest criticism came from Thompson, however: "I'm very disappointed to see, once again, we use the School Board arena for something that has nothing to do with the education of our children. I think this was improperly brought before the board and we have other business to attend to tonight."

BY CONTRAST, the single-page resolution supporting the higher education bond drew no debate at all.

The resolution read in part, "Whereas without increased capacity for classrooms, dormitories and laboratories in higher education facilities, many deserving Virginians, and specifically a growing number of graduates from FCPS [Fairfax County Public Schools], will be denied the opportunity to attend college in Virginia …."

If passed, this referendum would permit the General Assembly to authorize the sale of as much as $900 million in bonds to benefit 24 colleges and museums throughout the state including local facilities, George Mason University and the Virginia Community College System, of which the Northern Virginia Community College belongs.

Both referendums will be part of the Nov. 5 general election ballot.