In last week's Gazette, a front page story concerned the upcoming special election for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board (FCSB). The article provided some of the views of the four candidates for this position. By State statute, Va. Code Section 22.1-57.3 E. School Board elections are required to be non-partisan. While this is technically true, it is actually a fiction.
An election expert told me that this special election will be decided between the two candidates whose names appear on sample ballots handed out at the polling place by representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties. With all due respect to the two candidates unendorsed by a political party, the special election will be decided between Karen Keys-Gamarra who is endorsed by the Democratic party, and Chris Grisafe who is endorsed by the Republican party. On election day, their names will appear on the respective sample ballots handed out to voters.
After researching the views of these two endorsed candidates, I found that Ms. Keys-Gamarra favors renaming J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee and W.T. Woodson high schools. In the Gazette article, she states, "I am not on record as saying that we need to take Fairfax County's funds to pay for that." However, if she favors these name changes, each of which may separately cost up to $1 million, if private funding does not materialize, how does she expect those name changes to be implemented? This remains unanswered. Moreover, unreported in the Gazette is that Ms. Keys-Gamarra supports an aspect of the School Board's legislative package which would give local school boards taxing authority separate from the taxing authority of the Board of Supervisors. Thankfully, this would require state legislation which I believe would be dead on arrival. In my opinion, people who are eager to find new ways to spend other people's (taxpayers') money should be kept far away from the levers of local government.
Mr. Grisafe has not clearly gone on record concerning changing the names of schools. However, from his campaign website, he states the following: "A local school board should not be mired in political or partisan point-making — the emphasis must be on the students." Watching the School Board debate on the J.E.B. Stuart naming issue, I was struck by the extreme partisanship of individual board members, some of whom even played the "race card" and misrepresented how the school was originally named as well as alleged support for the name change which actually, based upon surveys conducted by the School Board, demonstrated only 3 percent support for the name change among students, and only 35 percent support among members of the adjacent community, over 3,400 of whom responded to the community survey. Concerning finances, Mr. Grisafe has gone on record, as reported in the Gazette article, that the School Board must enhance transparency concerning its budgetary decisions.
Presently, the School Board is made up of two members endorsed by the local Republican party and most if not all of the rest endorsed by the local Democratic party. I suggest that a local School Board which is supposed to be non-partisan should have a closer balance between endorsements from the respective political parties.
H. Jay Spiegel