The waiting is over. Democrats in the 37th District had been holding back to see what Del. Chap Petersen (D-37) would do. Last week, Petersen announced that he would focus his efforts on his run for lieutenant governor and was dropping out of the race for delegate.
Fairfax County School Board member Janet Oleszek (At-large) quickly capitalized by announcing that she would seek the vacant seat as a Democrat.
Oleszek sees the move as a chance become involved in state government. "I’ve been lobbying on the other side of the door in the House of Delegates and the State Senate,” Oleszek said.
A resident of the Bonnie Brae community in Fairfax County, Oleszek is focusing her campaign on education. “I share the concern about educating the children in the county,” she said.
One of her top priorities would be instituting all-day kindergarten. Schools in the City of Fairfax have the program, but only some schools in Fairfax County have it. Petersen had proposed a bill (HB 2484) during the last General Assembly session that would have mandated all-day kindergarten across the state. The bill was defeated in committee.
Oleszek wants to continue pushing for the program. "Early learning is key to success,” she said. “We need to prevent rather than remediate.” The obstacle most often identified is the extra classroom space that would be required, but she said that problem can be solved. “There’s flexible scheduling that we haven’t even looked at,” she said.
OLESZEK WOULD like to see education at a higher funding priority than it is currently. “It’s such a problem because the state has failed in its obligation,” she said. While Fairfax County is generally able to fund its own schools, she said, other parts of the state need additional assistance.
She identified southern and southwestern Virginia as in particular need of more funding, such as a proposed new college. “We’ve got to get the them to college,” she said. When the other areas have a better educated populace, then the whole state does better, she said.
Oleszek offered few specifics for funding these programs. “Our tax structure needs to be evaluated,” she said.
She has mixed feelings about the federal No Child Left behind law which forces schools across the country to test their students annually and show progress each year. “Conceptually, it’s a great idea, but the implementation did not come with any way to enable it,” she said.
She also does not consider a single test the best way to evaluate students. "There are lots of evaluative possibilities, but a single, high-stakes test does a disservice to all the progress that was made,” she said.
IN OTHER issues, Oleszek characterized herself as pro-choice and said she would not vote for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. “It’s a choice that doesn’t belong in government. I didn’t ask the government who I could marry,” she said. “I can’t see compromising on that at all.”
Oleszek also said the transportation issue needs to be addressed. “It’s so broken, it's pitiful,” she said. “Our roads are inadequate, but our public transportation doesn’t exist,” she said.
She would vote in favor of giving counties the same taxation authority as cities and is in favor of reinstituting red-light cameras. “I think it was well-documented that it saved accidents. It saved lives,” she said. “I was sorry to see that go down.”
While Oleszek sees a place for guns in society, she would be in favor of some controls. “Guns have a place in every public place, but not in public buildings and not ever in bars,” she said.
Oleszek faces fellow Democrat David Bulova in the June 14 primary. As of Dec. 31, 2004, neither had raised any money, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Also running for the 37th District seat are Republican Jim Kaplan, who has raised $12,590, and Libertarian Scott McPherson, who has raised $743.