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Will Brand New School Board Be a Problem?

Candidates and current school board members offer varying opinions.

With only one of nine incumbents running for the Alexandria School Board, there are diverging opinions as to whether a lack of incumbents on the new board will pose a problem.

"I think it will be extremely challenging because there is a learning curve," said Rebecca Perry, superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools "It's also an opportunity," she added.

"I have a concern that there are so many newcomers," District A candidate Sheryl Gorsuch said. "We need to keep historical perspective."

Board member Mark Wilkoff said he was also concerned by the turnover.

The sole incumbent agreed that, if elected, being the sole incumbent on the board would be a "challenge."

"I would have to be the repository of the corporate memory," said District C board member and candidate Charles Wilson. "I would have to make sure what we did the last three years is relevant to what we do in the next three years."

Wilson said he initially was not going to run for reelection. However, in January he noticed that the other eight members were not running and he changed his mind. "I felt I had a moral obligation to stay. Someone had to stay to mind the store."

Others were not as concerned by how few incumbents there will be on the board.

District B candidate Claire Eberwein noted that she had served on the board from 1994 to 2000 and can draw on this experience.

Eberwein got elected to the board in 1994, the first year Alexandria had an elected school board. In this new board only two of the members had been on the preceding board, which was appointed. They had only served for one year.

Eberwein said she did not find it to be a problem then and did not expect the new board's lack of experience to be a difficulty.

Current board member Kenneth Foran is also unconcerned about the future board's lack of incumbents. Not only do Eberwein and Wilson have experience, but District C candidate Peter Atherton was on a school board in Massachusetts, Foran pointed out.

"I think change is good," said District B candidate Yvonne Folkerts. "I personally intend to be a good study."

“I think we need fresh new thinking,” retiring board member Gwendolyn Lewis said.

Several candidates and current members called for school board member elections to be staggered. Staggering the elections would lead to more "continuity" on the board, District A candidate Gorsuch said. Arlington has staggered school board elections, she noted. (Arlington's five-member board also runs at large. There are no districts.)

When the retiring board members were asked why they were retiring, they generally offered personal reasons.

The school board takes up 15 to 30 hours per week, said Arthur Schmalz. Schmalz said he was a partner with a law firm and that between work requirements and wanting to spend time with his kids there was little time left over.

Melissa Luby also pointed to the time requirement. She said she was about to have two kids in college and needed to shift from part-time to full-time work to earn money for their education.

Mark Wilkoff said, "About six to seven months ago I got a new job and I just don't have the time."

"After nine years I think it's time to give someone else the chance," Mark Eaton said.

Vice Chairman Sally Ann Baynard said she thought three terms was "enough." After nine years on the board Baynard said she felt she had accomplished much of what she hoped to.

Chairman Mary “Mollie” Danforth has served since 1994. She said she felt she had accomplished what she had set out to accomplish and it was time to move on.

Lewis said she was retiring from the board to take care of “personal business.” Lewis has been on the board since 2002.

Kenneth Foran said he was not running for the board for the simple reason that he is running for the city council.