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School Board Chairman Decides Two Years is Enough

John Andrews cites family obligations for decision not to run for chairman next year.

School Board Chairman John Andrews, in his second year as chairman of the Loudoun County School Board, has announced he will not run for the position next year.

He said Tuesday that the four meetings a week that he attends are tough on his wife, Nadine, who is caring for their daughters, who are 2 years old and 4 months old. “I have a lot of family responsibilities,” he said Tuesday.

He also has a daughter in college and a son who will be a senior at Potomac Falls High School in the fall. “It’s my last year to spend full time with my son. That has to come first,” he said.

ANDREWS AND his family also plan to build a house in Lansdowne in a year or two, which would move him from the Potomac District to Broad Run’s. He said he would decide then whether to seek re-election on the School Board. Bob Ohneiser currently holds that seat.

Andrews chaired the bi-annual board meeting Tuesday night. He was the only member who voted against applying for $1.845 million to support the federal government’s No Child Left Behind grant. No Child Left Behind sets standards for student achievement and test scores, which are separated by ethnicity, limited English proficiency, low income and special education.

J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) said the grant provides funding for 2,602 low-income students who represent 10.91 percent of the schools’ kindergarten through fifth-grade population and who are eligible for free or reduced lunches. The grant also covers 1,281 low-income middle-school students or 11.24 percent. And it covers 1,322 low-income high-school students or 11 percent.

Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick and five state education officials recently met with the U.S. Secretary of Education to reinforce the State Board of Education’s recommendations to improve the law. But there has virtually been no response. “The mechanics … are weighing us down and costing us money that might be better directed to the children,” he said.

He recommended the board members urge Virginia’s congressmen to push for changes.

Andrews said Virginia was ahead of the curve with accountability by implementing Standards of Learning guidelines and tests prior to the federal mandate. Andrews said he would not vote in favor of the application, because the federal government has provided only one-third of the funding for No Child Left Behind.

The proposed $1.845 million figure, which will be finalized in August, represents a reduction of $38,373.

THE MAJORITY of the board members voiced objections to a Supervisors Finance Committee proposal to break down the district’s bond referendum question to borrow general obligation bonds to fund school construction and renovation projects into nine parts. Ohneiser, however, said he did not object to the recommendation.

Andrews said having nine items on the ballot is a problem, because voters often fail to turn the ballot over and vote for all of the items. “My concern is having nine separate communities vying. It is easy to create dissension”

He expressed concern that schools with the highest number of minorities and low-income students might lose out as communities are pitted against one another. He cited another concern: Half the households in Loudoun County don’t have children. “They may not see this as important as we do,” he said, adding that he keeps reminding the public that the quality of education creates value for all homeowners.

“We just don’t need to do this,” he said. “This is just throwing another one into the mix to separate the community when we should all think of Loudoun as one community.”

GEURIN AGREED that separating the ballot would only fragment the county. “And none of us on the board want to do this,” he said.

He asked whether the school district can proceed with building or renovations even if an item is rejected by the voters.

Hatrick said the Supervisors could pursue funding other than bonds. The School Board doesn’t drive that process. It is up to the Board of Supervisors he said.

Hatrick reminded the board that the voters would not be deciding whether a construction or renovation project is worthwhile, but whether general obligation bonds should be used to finance it. Andrews pointed out that those bonds are the “cheapest” form of financing. If the voters turned down any of the funding proposal, the School Board would have to postpone construction. “And it would cost more,” he said.

Ohneiser said he does not see the risk. “The concept that we are afraid that votes have to be bundled … is absurd,” he said. “I compliment the Supervisors for not clouding the issues.”

Andrews, however, said, “I’m concerned not necessarily that it will fail, but there might be a lot of angst."

ON ANOTHER ISSUE, the chairman said the threat of a lawsuit regarding the recently approved drama policy made him angry.

David Weintraub, a father and president of Loudoun Equality, told the board members that he will see them in court if a student is told that his idea is too controversial to portray in a theatrical presentation or a drama sponsor is required to censor material to avoid controversy. “Make no mistake …. and believe me, we will hear about those things — there will be a lawsuit.”

Andrews responded, “I’m a pretty much middle of the road guy. But I don’t like sitting up here being threatened. …”

The board decided to develop a policy after complaints were lodged about the Stone Bridge High School play, “Offsides.” The production, by student playwright Sabrina Audrey Jess, explored homosexuality and featured two boys simulating a kiss. The policy gives the drama teacher primary responsibility and the principal the final authority to ensure students adhere to its guidelines.

Robert Dupree (Dulles), said he would not be surprised if there is a legal challenge at some point over the drama policy. “Don’t provoke a fight just to provoke a fight. Let’s try to make this work.”

He said he believed the policy represented a good balance. He described it as workable, reasonable and defensible.

Kathy Hawes, a mother and president of Mainstream Loudoun, objected to the policy. She charged that there was no real community outcry after “Offsides.” Instead, it was an illusion created by Del. Dick Black (R-32) and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and other people who failed to identify themselves as representatives of anti-gay rights organizations.

“Our concerns should receive equal respect and recognition, especially from School Board members who are supposed to represent all of the citizens in their community,” she said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, Geurin said the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee will be undertaking a substantial effort to reach out to Hispanic parents to better engage them in their children’s education.

Forty-six percent of the students at Guilford Elementary School are Hispanic, 46 percent at Sully Elementary, 32 percent at Rolling Ridge Elementary, 33 percent at Sterling Middle, 27 percent at Forest Grove, 27 percent at Park View High, and 24 percent at Sully Elementary, he said. All of those schools are in Sterling.

He said the Curriculum and Instruction Committee will be evaluating the delivery of elementary education, looking at what exactly goes on throughout the day. It also will look at developing a curriculum for an information technology academy, as proposed by Ohneiser.