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Votes

Contrasting Visions: Belter vs. Martin

To the Editor:

In several recent interviews and letters to the editor, my opponent Scott Martin paints a vision of our existing school system replete with errors and misstatements. He then offers voters a future vision based on faulty analyses and misjudgments.

According to my opponent, Springfield District schools have broken bathrooms and air-conditioning/heating systems; the "percentage" of school funds spent in Springfield is "not enough"; school supplies are unfunded and have to be provided by PTAs; Springfield District is shortchanged on the current bond; and from these purported facts he concludes that I have not "represented" my district. He asserts that the system as a whole is full of waste, has "vast" administrative overhead and has no central accounting and inventory system so it can track items such as light bulbs and paper clips. He then offers voters a future in which we immediately "save" $150 million to $250 million by simply consolidating some non-instructional functions with the county and eliminating the current eight cluster offices and returning to the three area offices. Would that it were so, but alas.

Springfield is not broken. Our maintenance services department reviewed recent work orders, and I surveyed the principals in the district last week. No problems requiring fixing were reported. School supplies are not unfunded. We have allocated over $244 per pupil in FY ‘04 for such supplies. We have a centralized accounting system and we do track all assets valued at $5,000 or more, but we do not engage in wasteful efforts (which would require more administrative staff) to count light bulbs and paper clips. We have reduced administrative overhead the last four years to the point where only 1 percent of budgeted positions are administrators.

Springfield is not shortchanged on the bond referendum. The current bond contains funds for the 14-room modular at Chantilly High School and planning funds for the new West Fairfax Elementary School. Recent bonds have included renovations and renewals for schools in the Springfield District such as Orange Hunt Elementary, among others. The new South County High School is being built using funds obtained through an innovative public/private partnership, which I and many others fostered and implemented. These funds do not appear on a bond because of this unique financing arrangement.

Voters should have no qualms dismissing my opponent's huge purported "savings." The county and school system already share a number of functions where the sharing is cost-effective. These include vehicle maintenance, printing, insurance procurement and a shared financial system. A recent study by the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) concluded that while some savings along these lines are possible for smaller systems, they do "not make sense" for larger systems such as Fairfax. These larger systems have already maximized economies of scale. My opponent's specific claim that eliminating the eight clusters would alone save $2.5 million to $3 million is belied by historical facts. At the time we introduced the cluster system in 2000, it was intended to be a more responsive system than the three area offices, with the change being revenue neutral. In fact, we were able to eliminate four positions at an annual savings of $100,000. In this respect alone his plan would decrease responsiveness and increase our costs.

The only specific proposal my opponent offers on the subject of reducing administration is a commitment to increase administrative staff by creating a new Office of Inspector General to overlay our existing internal audit staff.

By way of contrast, I believe that, while we can always improve, we have a school system that is doing an excellent job in meeting the needs of our diverse student population with their many backgrounds and talents. I do not believe we are shortchanging individual districts in either expenditures or bond funding.

Voters should consider in particular the success of our bonding process. I worked on four bond referendum committees and co-chaired two. Our long-term historical process for deciding on projects to include in any given bond begins with development of a five-year Capital Improvement Plan which assesses estimated changes in enrollment, Program of Studies and actual facility conditions to determine priorities for all new construction, renovations and other capital facility projects. The initial selection of projects is done by independent consultants. The School Board then evaluates these priorities and their affordability in light of other requirements and determines which of the highest priority capital projects to include in a bond referendum. There has never been any criteria related to what the amounts turn out to be in individual magisterial districts nor has there ever been any effort to achieve anything like an equalization among the nine districts with the result that there is always extreme variation among nine districts in the actual amounts on each bond.

In my judgment, using any criteria such as the "percentage" of expenditures in a district, or the amount of dollars on a given bond as a measure of the performance of a School Board representative would introduce a new and divisive element into the functioning of our school system. The community would be ill-served by a representative who tries to grab everything he or she can, rather than working cooperatively with other members to produce a good result for all. The county-wide quality of our school system attests to the wisdom of our historically cooperative process.

Our children deserve experienced, knowledgeable and hard-working representation. If re-elected, I pledge to continue to work as hard as I can. I bring the required knowledge, experience and dedication to the job.

Cathy Belter

Vice chair and

Springfield District representative

Scott Martin's letter, "Martin Opposes Belter," can be found by visiting www.connectionnewspapers.com and clicking on Election Guide 2003.