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Always in Demand

School Board members share thoughts on budget, search for superintendent.

Dan Storck and Brad Center are very busy men. As recently elected members of the Fairfax County School Board, they attend monthly school board meetings, budget meetings, county board meetings, supervisor search meetings and more. They are invited to PTA meetings, retirement ceremonies, dedications, awards assemblies and many other functions. They are in demand.

"I try to do as much as I can," said Center. "If I said 'yes' to everything, I wouldn't see my children."

In addition to all those meetings, Center has committed to taking one day a month to schedule longer visits at local schools. He said that he can usually get to three or four schools and spend about two hours at each.

"This is an opportunity to sit and chat with the principal and assistant principal and get a tour of some of the classes," said Center. "It gives me a feel for the school and they can put a face to my name, learn about me, give me updates and start an open line of communication."

In addition to addressing issues at the school level, Center and Storck also have to deal with constituent issues. Center said that when he receives a call from somebody with a specific issue, he tries to make sure that he gets the ball rolling and gets them to the right chain of command.

WHILE CENTER AND STORCK attend to things individually, they can often be seen at events together. This is because the layout of the schools doesn't always coincide with the magisterial district. Center said that even if a school only represents 10 percent of his area, he likes to be there. The two men work well together and seem to respect each other's opinions.

"I met Dan when I was on the Character Counts Task Force, but I got to know him better during the election. We work very well together," said Center. "I'm very pleased at the makeup and character of the whole board."

Last month, both men attended Groveton's workshop on No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Two weeks ago, they attended Carl Sandburg Middle School's PTA meeting. At Sandburg, they spoke about the two things that they thought the audience would be most interested in: the budget process and the search for a new superintendent.

Storck explained that the school board is in the midst of the budget process. They are creating a preliminary budget which will be sent to the county. After that budget is reviewed, it is sent back to the School Board, where it is looked at more closely. Storck said that they are asking for $1.8 billion, which is a 9.7 percent increase.

"Most of the increase is due to compensation increases for teachers," said Storck. "We feel that teachers are not competitively paid compared to those in Alexandria, Arlington County and Montgomery County. This [increase] would get us close to the average. We want the best teachers and staff to work. It's a great place to work; we just need competitive wages."

Storck said that the increases would be in the form of step increases, based on grade and annual cost of living. Retirement contributions and health-care costs are also part of the increase. Of course, with all the cutbacks, the county has to figure out how to fund not only the school budget, but others as well.

Storck also explained that Virginia receives the lowest level of their school budget than any other state. Only 18 percent comes from the Commonwealth, with a mere 2 percent coming from the Federal government; that leaves a balance of 80 percent that needs to come from the county.

To further aggravate this, only about 25 percent of the money paid by Northern Virginia comes back to the area.

"It's on the back of property owners to fund the schools," said Storck. Referring to the unfunded Federal mandates, he said, "We're paying locally for what the state and government say they want, but don't fund. Students are not going to learn as well if they don't have additional resources."

County budget hearings will be held later this month.

Talking about the superintendent search, Center mentioned an article in the Washington Post, saying that they were looking for 'God.' "We knew that filling his [Dr. Daniel Domench] shoes would be difficult and not something we wanted to do in two days," said Center.

In the meantime, Brad Draeger is acting superintendent and the Board has hired a search firm to help with advertising and background and reference checks. They will also aggressively seek out candidates.

Center said that the search firm will meet with Board members, parents, members of the business community and the Board of Supervisors. They will be looking for input on the characteristics desired in a new superintendent.

"Then we'll start getting names from the search firm and weeding through them. Our goal is to have the selection process completed by July," said Center.

Don't look for any names to be mentioned; Center emphasized the importance of confidentiality.

"Most of the candidates we're looking at aren't even looking for a job; we can't jeopardize their confidentiality by sharing the decision process with other groups. People will just have to trust us to do our job and pick the best candidate," said Center.