Carl Cecil admits that both he and Sully School Board representative Kathy Smith have the same intention — to give children a great education. They differ on how to reach that goal.
And that's why Cecil, a Republican, is challenging her for her seat. "It's time for a change in Sully District," he said. "We need leadership and, right now, we don't have it."
Residents of Sutton Oaks in Chantilly, Cecil, 46, and his wife Karen have three girls and a boy: Kelly, 16, a Chantilly High junior; Claire, 14, Chantilly freshman; Annie, 9, Poplar Tree Elementary fourth-grader and Patrick, 6, a first-grader there.
Cecil attended West Point, served 17 years in the Army and retired as a major. He's now a Realtor with Century 21 New Millennium in Centreville. He's coached Chantilly Youth Association soccer and volleyball and is on CYA's soccer board. He's been on Chantilly High's PTSA board for two years and was on the county Council of PTAs' executive board, last year. And he's served on FCPS' language arts and foreign language advisory committees.
GOING DOOR-TO-DOOR to more than 1,000 homes, he said people are receptive to his message. "Most folks who follow the School Board, at all, realize their representative is there, but not saying anything or taking any meaningful action," said Cecil. "And many teachers don't see her words mixing with her platform."
He said Smith voted for a 10-percent raise for the school superintendent, but only 2 percent for teachers. And he contends that she's reversed herself on issues such as smaller classes.
"During a May 2002 School Board meeting, she voted against putting a cap on core classes that teach SOL subjects," said Cecil. "She flip-flopped during election year to vote for a half-child reduction in class size. But in Sully, we're seeing crowding — no reduction in class size. In my daughter's math class at Chantilly, there are 31 kids."
He said the difference between Smith and himself is a Republican approach vs. a Democratic approach. He said Republicans look at all the programs and "rack and stack" priorities. "If we do so, there might be some true savings," said Cecil. "We've put a lot of programs in the School Budget, but we should reevaluate them to see if they're still needed. If they don't directly support students and teachers, we need to review them for potential cuts."
School maintenance, service, human resource and information technology portions of the budget should also be examined, he said. That way, the board could see if these things could be combined with like items in Fairfax County's budget "to achieve economies of scale." Perhaps, said Cecil, some of the older support facilities could be consolidated into some newer ones with the same space, but at less cost to maintain.
He's also concerned about something he learned from the 2004 budget. "In the last six years, the Fairfax County school system's budget has gone up 46 percent, but the number of students has only increased by 10 percent," he said. "So it seems that we're not controlling costs."
Properly compensating teachers is also important to Cecil. "We need to make sure we provide teachers with a competitive pay-and-benefits package," he said. "And we need to make sure that the newer ones can afford to live in the county in which they teach; affordable housing may be part of the benefit package."
Cecil also says kids must have the best curriculum possible so they can read, write and do math and not be dependent on calculators. "The SOLs have helped in this respect, and they provide accountability and help students master the requirements," he said. "They give us a metric to improve education."
Although the School Board is supposed to be nonpartisan, he said, "The reality is that it's very partisan. Almost every vote [is divided along party lines], and my opponent has consistently voted with the Democratic majority [on the board]."
Still, said Cecil, "I'm not running because the sky is falling. It's the same sort of commitment to duty, honor, country that caused me to attend West Point and serve in the Army. Those same values make me want to serve my community."
Noting his volunteer efforts in youth sports, his church, homeowners associations and school activities, he said he now wants to insure that his children and others in the Sully District receive a top-notch education. Said Cecil: "I've met with every principal [in the district] to get their take on the system, and I told them I'm not an educator, but I'm educatable."
He was on the county's bond committee, two years ago, and served nearly five years at the Pentagon, at headquarters level, for the Department of the Army. "I served on both national advisory and decision-making boards, involving hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "Working with the Army, Air Force and Navy, I had to figure out how to solve problems among three competing services. That type of experience qualifies me to serve on the School Board."
And since he's used to dealing with high-level executives, said Cecil, he "won't be intimidated by the superintendent's office. I think the relationship between the School Board and superintendent is backwards, currently. The School Board should be setting the policy and guidance for the school system, rather than the other way around."
HE'S BEEN endorsed by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, as well as by prominent Republican politicians such as Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th) and Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien (R-39th). When asked why local voters should elect him to the School Board, Cecil replied, "Because we want to make sure Sully is represented with the conservative values that our residents have and that they get the accountability and leadership they expect."
Virginia Olander of Centreville's Cabell's Mill community is a staunch supporter. "I'm a Republican and support the Republican ideals," she said. "I think Cecil would be very good. I like his military background — I know he understands discipline. And he's very dedicated and caring about the schools and the quality of education that his children and others receive."
She's pleased that he's open to suggestions and is a businessman. "It makes him a more broad-minded person," she said. "I spent 27 years as a teacher, so I know what it means to have high standards in schools. And like me, he feels that we should teach children to reach high standards."
Campaign worker Jen Littlefield of Virginia Run is Cecil's communications director. She says his leadership roles show that people can trust him, that he stays focused and that he listens to everyone's opinion and comes up with a consensus on which everyone can agree.
She also likes his Pentagon budget experience, his understanding of overcrowded classrooms and his involvement in his children's education. Said Littlefield: "He feels passionately about making sure we're inspiring more kids to excel."
And campaign worker Ray Kirshak of Centreville called Cecil a "man of honor," a sincere person and a good, family man. "He's studied the School Board issues, has four children in the school system and, in addition to his military experience, he has an excellent background in executive leadership. I believe in him as a person and as a candidate."