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Letter: Lessons from School Board Election

— To the Editor:

In Alexandria you have to know the players to understand the scorecard. The city's campaign finance records reveal that Alan Hilburg contributed $500 to Helen Morris's successful 2009 School Board run. A year later, Mr. Hilburg was given a $12,000 a month consulting contract to advise ACPS on communications issues. Given ACPS’s many public relations gaffes in the past few years, the newly elected School Board may want to take a closer look at the school system’s use of consultants.

Seen in this light, Mr. Hilburg's recent panegyric to Ms. Morris (Letters to the Editor, Nov. 14) is understandable. He suggests she lost the 2012 race "because she was a board member during the Mort Sherman era." Indeed, the School Board election in many respects was a referendum on the performance not only of Dr. Sherman but of the board itself. Six members prudently decided to not to run again and the two successful incumbents placed third in their respective districts.

However, Ms. Morris was not victimized by chance association with a divisive leader. The fact that building a new Jefferson-Houston School across the street from Ms. Morris’s home suddenly moved up in priority on the school district capital project list during her term indicates a close working relationship with the superintendent. Many voters in District A apparently didn’t forget their controversial public-private partnership proposal either. When Vice Mayor Kerry Donley called for Dr. Sherman’s resignation following a capital spending scandal earlier this year, Ms. Morris rose to the superintendent’s defense.

If Mr. Hilburg truly seeks answers about the election results, he must first stop defending someone he says "worked tirelessly" to make Jefferson-Houston School "a representative model of the evolutionary success in our schools." The fact is that Jefferson-Houston has not turned around during Ms. Morris’s and Dr. Sherman’s tenures. Currently the school does not even meet the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) and is under a state mandate for improvement. Only a handful of schools in the state are in this category.

Last month the state Board of Education rejected ACPS’s appeal to grant Jefferson-Houston conditional accreditation after questioning Dr. Sherman about the plunge in performance that occurred on his watch. Parents as well as voters in District A are asking similar questions. It’s time to hold the Superintendent and those who defend him accountable.

Leslie Zupan, Alexandria