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Morrissette To Head Bond Committee

Committee Advocates on Behalf of Referendum

Bud Morrissette is a graduate of Fairfax County Public Schools. His wife is a graduate of Fairfax County Public Schools. His children attend Fairfax County Public Schools.

So when he was tapped by School Board chair Isis Castro (Mount Vernon) to serve as chairman of the 2003 School Bond Committee, Morrissette said yes, even though he has never served on the committee before and as of earlier this week, had only two other members.

"From a business stand point, we have found as high as 70 percent of our employees attended school at some level in the area and 45 percent have kids in the school system," said Morrissette, vice president of Interstate Van Lines headquarters in Springfield. "Our company is a big business partner with the school system. We are school partners with about six to seven schools. We're very involved as a company. When you're treated well growing up, you want to ensure future generations have the same opportunities."

The School Board is expected to approve the nominated appointees — 14 in all — to the committee Thursday during its regular business meeting at Jackson Middle School. As of Monday, only three names had been submitted beforehand, with the rest expected to be announced the night of the meeting.

EACH ELECTION YEAR that the school system seeks to include a bond referendum on the November ballot to pay for capital improvements, the board appoints a citizens committee to publicize and advocate on behalf on the bond. It is the committee's job to print up flyers and posters, to hand out leaflets, and generally try to convince citizens to approve the bond. This year's referendum totals more than $290 million.

"The school system can't [by law] advocate for the bond referendum," said Paul Regnier, coordinator of community relations for the school system, and the staff advisor for the committee. "They raise the money, so they can carry out the activities. They organize the citizens to campaign for the bond."

Regnier said that the only bond referendum to fail was in the 1970s, when citizens objected to putting air conditioning in the schools. The line item was removed and the referendum passed on a second attempt.

The last bond referendum, in 2001 totaling $377,955,000, passed by the largest margin ever with an 80.36 percent approval rate. Prior to that the school system received approval for bonds in 1999 totaling $297.205 million, in 1997 totaling $232.85 million, and in 1995 totaling $204.05 million.

DESPITE PAST HISTORY, many feel the bond committee will have to work hard this time around.

"You can't take anything for granted these days. A lot of people were confident the transportation referendum [to raise the sales tax to pay for Northern Virginia road projects] would pass," Morrissette said. "I'm the one who has to assure voters the bond is important and to ensure it has the support to pass. I don't want to be the first one that doesn't have one pass on my watch."

School Superintendent Daniel Domenech is also cautious about the bond's outcome: "In this day and age of anti-tax, we are less likely to take for granted it will pass. None of us want to begin to think of what will happen if it didn't pass."

Each School Board member appoints someone to the committee, as does the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. The board chair generally appoints a committee chairman, who traditionally has come from the business community. Over the years Morrissette has served on several school and various chambers of commerce-related committees; and is currently on the board of directors and the executive board of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

As chair of the bond committee, Morrissette said he has the responsibility of drumming up support for the bond within the business community and to organize the committee meetings, expected to begin in July.

As for the council's pick: "Generally, it's been someone from our executive board who serves," said Diane Brody, president of the Council of PTAs, which had yet to name its appointee. "We generally want someone who volunteers to be there."